Tuesday, November 18, 2014

From Page to Stage: Dickens Takes Orange County By Storm Decade After Decade

The cast of A Christmas Carol including, center, John-David Keller, Hal Landon Jr., Richard Doyle and Karen Hensel.
For 35 years, John-David Keller and Hal Landon Jr. have shared a holiday tradition: directing and starring in South Coast Repertory’s production of Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol. In addition to directing, Keller portrays Mr. Fezziwig. Landon is beloved as the curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge. Of course, the tradition began when Jerry Patch adapted the Dickens classic for SCR.

John-David Keller and Karen Hensel as Mr. & Mrs. Fezziwig
To this day, Keller prepares in much the same way he has every year:

“I try to read the Dickens novella every year because I ask the children in the cast to read it—that’s always their first assignment,” he relates. “The script is very faithful to the original. I believe that if you compare the Dickens book and the play that Jerry Patch wrote for us, you’ll see how very loyal Jerry was to his source. After all, it’s hard to improve on Charles Dickens!”

Recapturing the spirit of an old-fashioned Christmas was the vision of Patch SCR’s former resident dramaturg, Jerry Patch. In designing his version of A Christmas Carol, Patch concentrated on how the major themes of the story could most effectively be communicated on stage.

“I wanted families to be able to come to the theatre together and share an experience. Everyone from grandparents to grandchildren could be touched by the significant message of this classic story,” Patch says.

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.

Daniel Blinkoff and Jennifer Parsons as Mr. & Mrs. Cratchit with the Cratchit Children
“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 19th century. Scrooge’s didactic understanding of generosity, charity and mercy are ideal 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.”

Keller believes the production gets an extra special because of all the new faces in the cast each year.

“There are 16 children in the show. Christmas for these lucky youngsters is one they’ll never forget,” Keller says. “I watch their faces. During rehearsal and I can see them grow with every passing day. It’s an intense learning process and they have more fun than anybody.”

Hal Landon Jr. as Ebenezer Scrooge with the Shelley family.
Landon has logged more than a thousand performances as Ebenezer Scrooge, but he says he will never be through working on the role.

“I’ve spent considerable time trying to figure out why Scrooge is the way he is and what makes a man shut down like that in terms of relating to the rest of the world. Why is he so obsessed with money?” Landon asks. “I’ve created an entire back story for Scrooge. For example, he’s not just lonely on that Christmas Eve when we see him; he has felt the same loneliness throughout his entire life, which is something I need to understand and respond to.

Landon imagines that Scrooge’s life totally changes after we leave him at the Cratchit home on Christmas Day.

“He has a lot of money, which he starts using for the common good. I like to think that his relationship with the Cratchits and with his nephew, Fred, becomes very close, which brings all of them a lot of joy. Scrooge is a symbol of hope for all of humanity because he proves without a doubt that anybody can change.”

Learn more and buy tickets

No comments:

Post a Comment