Tracey Maloney as The Ghost of Christmas Past in Guthrie Theater's "A Christmas Carol." (Photo by Michael Brosilow) Credit: Submitted image

Tracey Maloney as The Ghost of Christmas Past in Guthrie Theater's "A Christmas Carol." (Photo by Michael Brosilow) Credit: Submitted image

A holiday tradition turns 40

Updated: October 31, 2014 - 4:17 pm

Guthrie Theater’s annual “A Christmas Carol” production returns; plus, Michael Kareken in a two-gallery exhibition of new drawings and paintings

Put on a play every year for four decades, as Guthrie Theater has done with “A Christmas Carol,” and you’re bound to rack up some impressive numbers.

Two million theatergoers in the seats. Over 800 actors on stage. Twenty different versions of “Bah humbug!” spouted by as many Ebenezer Scrooges.

This year, sometime after Scrooge blows out his bedside candle and Christmas Eve night descends on the Wurtele Thrust Stage, audience members will see Tracey Maloney drift down from the rafters as The Ghost of Christmas Past. It’s Maloney’s third or fourth time playing one of the three spirits who visit Scrooge and, she guessed, probably the tenth time she’s been cast in the Guthrie’s stage version of Charles Dickens’ classic tale.

“My trajectory seems kind of long, but there are people who have done (the play) 20, 30 times,” Maloney said. “It’s kind of a tradition for a lot of actors. It’s nice that way.”

It’s certainly a tradition for many of the folks in the audience, too. Returning cast members like Maloney even recognize some, like the family dubbed the “Red Sweater Group” for their matching holiday attire.

“There’s probably between 20 and 30 of them that come on a certain night every year,” she said. “They sit near the front and you can feel their energy, and they’re very vocal about the story.”

In 2010, the Guthrie broke with tradition and staged a new adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” penned by British playwright Crispin Whittell. But there are subtler changes from year to year as each new cast interprets the script.

Said Maloney: “Every year we try to think: What did we really like last year? How can we make that better? Are there things we can tweak or bring back?”

“The script is funny, which people love,” she added, and this year’s challenge is to heighten the contrast between the darkness early in the play and Scrooge’s Christmas Day redemption “so when he changes at the end it’s a huge change.”

This year, audiences are treated to a veteran Scrooge: J.C. Cutler, reprising the role for the fourth time since 2011.

“(Cutler) is a bit younger than what I typically think of as Scrooge, and I think that makes the story in some ways more accessible — that it’s not just some iconic, elderly, gnarled old man, that it can be anyone,” Maloney said.

In late October, Maloney, who lives in South Minneapolis, was about a week into rehearsals for “A Christmas Carol,” having just finished a run in the Guthrie’s production of Wendy Wasserstein’s 1988 play, “The Heidi Chronicles.” She was looking forward to spending a few months inhabiting Dickens’ Victorian London.

“Every time people walk out of this play, they’re just a little kinder,” she said.


“A Christmas Carol”

When: Nov. 19–Dec. 28. Previews begin Nov. 13.

Where: Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St.

Info:, 377-2224. Tickets start at $34 for adults and $17 for children.

Autos, salvaged

Michael Kareken is the local art scene’s prowling junkyard dog, an artist whose vocation carries an unusually high risk of tetanus.

In about 2006, Kareken began painting the massive piles of glass bottles, scrap paper and rusting metal found in recycling yards like St. Paul’s RockTenn facility. As a painting subject, the jumbled, vertiginous heaps of waste provided a roundabout path for a realist to explore the pictorial possibilities of Abstract Expressionism, and the visual bravado of the work was accompanied a forceful moral message: Here is your trash. Look at it.

Within the last several years, Kareken started exploring a new territory. In auto salvage yards, he found oxidizing engine blocks and suspension coils, spider-webbed windshields and tangled tubes and manifolds — another jumble, just like the piles of recycled glass bottles, but one with a recognizable order, even in its afterlife as scrap and spare parts.

In paintings, Kareken maps the decrepit architecture of these old machines in muted tones of ochre, steel blue and fuel-tube grey. The blades of an engine fan are meticulously rendered, but around it the painting dissolves into drips and slashing brush strokes.

The majority of this new work, though, is drawings. Working in conté crayon on drafting film, Kareken achieves a sharp chiaroscuro effect reminiscent of watercolor painting. It’s particularly well suited to capturing light glinting off of the crumpled front end of a school bus or delineating the grill in some decades-old hunk of Detroit steel.

“Parts” is an unusual joint exhibition of the Groveland and Burnet galleries, and it’s worth visiting both to take in the scope of Kareken’s achievement.

At Burnet, you get a massive collage of cut-up and reused drawings, an approach that brings the medium and the subject closer together. At Groveland, you get a few portraits, of a sort — old junkers drawn as delicately as the human figure.


When: Through Nov. 29

Where: Groveland Gallery, 25 Groveland Terrace/Burnet Gallery at Le Méridien Chambers, 901 Hennepin Ave.

Info:, 377-7800/, 767-6824