For more than a decade, actress spreads holiday cheer in Goodman Theatre’s ‘Christmas Carol’

SHARE For more than a decade, actress spreads holiday cheer in Goodman Theatre’s ‘Christmas Carol’
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For veteran Chicago actress Penelope Walker, spreading Christmas cheer(with a little bit of holiday stage magic sprinkled on top) is something she takes literally, thanks to the Goodman Theatre’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol.”

Penelope Walker | COURTESY OF THE GOODMAN THEATRE

Penelope Walker | COURTESY OF THE GOODMAN THEATRE

Walker has been in the cast of the beloved production for 11 years, portraying three characters over the years, from Abby (Fred Scrooge’s wife), to the Ghost of Christmas Present to Mrs. Bob Cratchit (her current role).

“It’s just an incredible production,” Walker said during a recent conversation, about the show that has been her holiday home-away-from-home for more than a decade. “It’s such a timeless play, and I do feel it still resonates in a big way. It’s an artistically rich show. They always assemble an incredible cast and crew. And being able to tell the story fresh every year is marvelous. I remember my first season in the show, people kept coming up to me saying, ‘you’re gonna love it’. And they were so right. It’s just so much fun to be part of. [The show] celebrates its own Christmas on stage every night with the audience.”

Here’s Walker’s take on the three strong women she has brought to life in “A Christmas Carol”:

“Abby [whom Walker portrayed for three years] really wants to be very supportive of Fred and his desire to go see his uncle every year with the same joy that the season brings. I don’t know that she always understood [his decision] because [Ebenezer] Scrooge was so mean and distant and it seems inexplicable that her husband would want to share Christmas with his uncle. It’sall very Victorian! Celebrating with family and friends is tradition. But it’s not how uncle Scrooge feels about Fred, it’s about how Fred feels about his uncle Scrooge. How we feel about other people really should lead our actions.”

In 2009, Penelope Walker starred as the Ghost of Christmas Present, with John Babbo (Ignorance, left) and Caroline Heffernan (Want) in the Goodman Theatre’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol.” | PHOTO BY LIZ LAUREN

In 2009, Penelope Walker starred as the Ghost of Christmas Present, with John Babbo (Ignorance, left) and Caroline Heffernan (Want) in the Goodman Theatre’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol.” | PHOTO BY LIZ LAUREN

“The Ghost of Christmas Present [whom Walker portrayed for five years]. Oh that glorious costume! The dress was really big and red and bejeweled and bedazzled and blinged out! It was so festive in itself!…The character really teaches us about the idea of living in the present and being truly excited about the here and now because that’s all we have, when you think about it. She tries to impart that on Scrooge, but he doesn’t want to hear it. I felt like playing her was really fun and really closest to who I am. I feel like I do live in the moment. Being joyful and being present is all really know we have. I’m a Christmas baby [Walker was born on Christmas Eve] so I guess thatsense of joy in the moment hasbeen a part of me since I was born!”

Pictured in the 2013 production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is Penelope Walker as Mrs. Cratchit. | LIZ LAUREN PHOTO

Pictured in the 2013 production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is Penelope Walker as Mrs. Cratchit. | LIZ LAUREN PHOTO

“Mrs. Cratchit, she’s probably the most different from me. She is all about ‘There’s certainly joy in not having: We don’t have much but we have each other, and that’s priceless.’ There’s also a sense of scrappiness about her and her family, in that they do what they must to survive but they do it with such joy. There is great sacrifice but there is also great joy. She has a genuine sense of joy in who she is as a woman and that her family is what truly matters.”

Walker says the transcendental message of Charles Dickens’ tale is what draws her year after year and what helped make the show a holiday tradition for Chicagoans.

“This show is not about creed and doctrine, things that can bind people or constrict them,” she said. “The story is about our humanity. About being a person in the world and existing with other people. How we navigate that from day-to-day.”


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