Estella (Betsy Wolfe) is the head of Bleak House, a big bad corporation that pinches pennies everywhere it can. Her company won’t even provide proper health insurance to her assistant’s sick child, Tiny Tammy, with its “Silver Dollar Plan.”
When Estella returns to her hometown to put up a strip mall, which requires tearing down a hotel that’s a refuge for the troubled, poor and lost. She says she’s helping the needy help themselves, with new jobs (“food service!” “maintenance!”). It’s a wonder Ayn Rand doesn’t show up. “She’s the oligarchy!” declares a hotel resident who calls Estella a “pickpocket in a pantsuit” … a.k.a., a capitalist.
After all, Estella represents the worst of the United States, where big business takes priority over human life. (When Scrooge tells the tortured ghost of his old partner Jacob Marley that he was a good businessman, the ghost declares, “Business! Mankind is my business!”) In Scrooge I see a whole nation that fails to protect and honor those who live under the thumb of the rich old Ebenezers.
Remember what the Ghost of Christmas Present hid under his luxurious robe? It’s not included in some versions, though it made the cut in most of these. Scrooge spies a gaunt hand that belongs to a child, one of two under the robe, whom the ghost says belong to Scrooge and all of mankind: One is Ignorance. The other is Want. They are our progeny, our plague, and Scrooge shrinks away from them in horror.
This year we have faced our ghosts and reckoned with our responsibility for the people around us. That story is beyond Dickens and Scrooge and beyond the Christmas season — it is now and forever, each of us for the other, if we can hope to someday be merry together.
A Christmas Carol (Geffen Playhouse)
Available through Jan. 3; achristmascarollive.com
A Christmas Carol (Milwaukee Rep)
Available through Dec. 24; milwaukeerep.com
A Christmas Carol (Goodman Theater)
Available through Dec. 31; carol.goodmantheatre.org
Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol
Through Dec. 20; manualcinema.com
Available at estellascrooge.com