A Christmas Carol, Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, A Christmas Carol, Goodman Theatre, and Harvey Finkelstein’s A Puppet Christmas Carol, Live Bait Theater. What’s astonishing about Dickens’s evergreen is the simplicity of its message, which is more humanistic than religious: Christmas is a much-needed occasion to affirm our ties to our “fellow passengers to the grave.” The lessons offered Ebenezer Scrooge by four ghosts are classically therapeutic: this unproductive miser must grow beyond a defensive denial of “bad choices” and discover his power to make a difference.

Metropolis Performing Arts Centre discards the passionate Israel Horovitz adaptation used last season for a faithful but less focused version by director Daniel Scott. Vividly, the characters enter through the audience, as if they’ve come from it. Though Gerald Walling’s Scrooge is too matter-of-fact in his reactions to his bad deeds and to his second chance, his down-to-earth approach does suit Scott’s less-is-more retelling. Intentionally or not, there are few laughs in this staging, but that’s just as well: a loner like Scrooge wasn’t just bad for business–his hoarding stopped the flow of money–he was a witch in the making, cut off from his own humanity and the world’s.

The story’s directness survives even the Goodman’s lavish annual treatment. Lighter in tone, more musical, and more communal than it was last year (a production that was itself less flashy than previous pageants), Goodman’s Christmas Carol is nicely tuned in Kate Buckley’s second turn at the helm. Rejecting both laughter and pity, William Brown’s Scrooge rightly refuses to twinkle until he’s saved. This year his morning-after rush of joy comes more tentatively: it’s hard to break the habits of a lifetime and be happy. A new painting in Scrooge’s bedroom–a picture of Marley–is used effectively. The final ghost’s funeral scenes are nicely telescoped, and however sentimental, the Cratchit Christmas dinner is a nonnegotiable portrait of poverty. The crackerjack cast are more powerful than quaint.

The spirit of the story survives even the foulmouthed Harvey Finklestein’s A Puppet Christmas Carol. Employing hilarious sock-puppet caricatures and a shadow-puppet backdrop, this 35-minute travesty features a Bush-loving Spooge and his Kermit-like flunkie Bob Crotchrot. We also meet his gay nephew, a flatulent Ghost of Christmas Present, young Spooge as a homey, his girl as a Latina whore, and a “bubble boy” Tiny Tim suffering every known medical malady. Outrageous and politically incorrect, this X-rated version of the classic nevertheless delivers a raucous redemption.