By: Erin Frank

As a self-professed Christmas junkie, sitting down to a performance of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens is a holiday tradition. Actors traipse through plot lines seen countless times since childhood, evoking memories of carols gone by. At the American Conservatory Theater’s production of “A Christmas Carol” you’ll find all the familiar players but with a refreshing element of unabashed silliness.

A.C.T.’s gorgeously gilded theater, which turns 100 years old in January 2010, is a fitting stage on which to mount Dickens’ classic tale. Adapted by Paul Walsh and Carey Perloff, the script has a decidedly Bay Area flair. The diverse, multi-generational, free-spirited cast doesn’t take itself too seriously,—adding a bit of cheekiness even when simply moving the scenery—and if they lack polish at times they make up for it with their infectious good cheer.

At the heart of the story is that miserable miser Ebenezer Scrooge, played brilliantly for the fourth year by James Carpenter. Carpenter portrays a man who is doomed by his actions but redeemed by his memories, hitting tender notes of emotion and humor as he revisits the joys and mistakes of the past. Around him flits a motley crew of outlandish Christmas spirits and irrepressible townspeople. His nephew Fred (Philip Mills) embodies the sheer goodwill of the holidays without seeming saccharine, and Scrooge’s former employers Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig (played by acclaimed local actors Jarion Monroe and Sharon Lockwood) come across like festive, madcap characters from a Baz Luhrmann production.

The entire show is infused with Christmas cheer, and Carpenter’s performance as Scrooge is pitch-perfect. With families tightening their belts in the wake of the recession, “A Christmas Carol” is a necessary, uplifting reminder of community and generosity this holiday season.

“A Christmas Carol” runs December 3-27 at A.C.T. Theater,