Monday, November 25, 2013
Taking a Literary Classic From Page to Stage
“It wasn’t that hard,” Patch recalls. “Dickens overpowered life at the beach almost every morning.”
Patch’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol, debuted on SCR’s stage in December 1980, and the universal qualities that Patch brought to the play have kept the production timeless. He concentrated on how the major themes of the story could most effectively be communicated on the stage.
“I wanted families to be able to come to the theatre together and share an experience. Everyone from grandparents to grandchildren could all be touched by the significant message of this classic story. Every year I waited in the lobby after performances and listened to families talking about what they’ve gotten out of the play.”
The story’s focus on humanity and regeneration continues to move audiences of all ages as they experience Scrooge’s transformation along with the character.
“This play is a celebration of family, peace and unity,” Patch explains. “It’s not just a British play, nor is it limited in scope to the nineteenth century. Scrooge’s didactic understanding of generosity, charity, and mercy are ideals to be embraced by all people in all times. His story embodies the very tenets of American culture—you can change yourself, you can succeed beyond your means and. after undergoing metaphorical death, you can come back and live a better life. In other words, it’s never too late. This isn’t a complicated message, but it’s an important one nonetheless, and it’s the means by which we hope to touch our audiences.”
John-David Keller has directed SCR’s A Christmas Carol each of its 34 years. He says he tries to read the novella every year—it keeps him honest.
“I ask the children in the cast to read it—that’s always their first assignment. Jerry’s script is very faithful to the original, but there are some elements he chose to eliminate because they’re peripheral to our primary focus, which is Scrooge’s through-line. Things such as the engagement and the fates of his fiancée and his sister are still there, but only to stimulate Scrooge and not to tell the other characters’ stories,” Keller says.
“Another change concerns the reconciliation between Cratchit and Scrooge, which in the book occurs at Scrooge’s office, but we didn’t want to have to go back to that set, so our Scrooge goes to the Cratchit home instead,” says Keller. “This is a Jerry Patch device that works wonderfully because you get to see the whole family reacting positively to this man who, in an earlier scene, was being called names and started a family fight.
“Another departure from Dickens is the exchange of gifts in that scene, which is not in Dickens. Every theatre adapts A Christmas Carol for their company, and certainly our script was written to suit the personalities and acting styles of our cast. But I believe that if you compare the Dickens book and the Patch play, you’ll see how very loyal Jerry was to his source. After all, it’s hard to improve on Charles Dickens.”
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