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Tighter script helps focus Guthrie’s ‘Christmas Carol’

For years, the Guthrie Theater’s annual “Christmas Carol” has vacillated between venerable classic and old warhorse. In recent years, Gary Gisselman’s energetic directing has brought renewed life to the production. This year, a tightened script only helps to focus Scrooge’s strange tale without losing the magic of the staging.

In the revised, 100-minute one-act edition (still done by the excellent Barbara Field), moments that often felt bloated and overbearing (and often left the older Scrooge as nothing more than a spectator for long stretches) in past productions have been ratcheted back. So the seemingly eternal Fezziwig Christmas scene is pared down to the heart, focusing mainly on Scrooge’s cold — and then broken —  heart. (Though, to be honest, it still could use some trimming — or maybe all the merriment is just too rich for the proceedings.)

Peter Michael Goetz steps into Scrooge’s shoes with ease, giving multiple dimensions to what can easily be a caricature. The key, after all, is to show that Scrooge once had a heart that has just been frozen by inactivity, not destroyed. Goetz brings out that gradual thaw throughout each of the spirit sections, until his ultimate joy to be alive and willing to give on Christmas morning is completely satisfying.

The cast features a host of veteran actors — plenty with multiple Guthrie “Christmas Carols” under their belts — who easily mix their narration and characters, all the while making it sound perfectly natural. Meanwhile, Steven Epp — especially in his first moments as the newly deceased Jacob Marley — makes it feel, just for a bit, like a Jeune Lune show.

“A Christmas Carol” runs through Dec. 31 on the Wurtele Thrust Stage, the Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Minneapolis. Tickets are $29 to $79. For information, call 612-377-2224 or visit online.

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