As I write this there are still 45 shopping days to Christmas, but last night we began our read-through for the Actors Civic Theatre production of that perennial Christmas ornament, A Christmas Carol, and tomorrow we begin rehearsal. Moreover, the Disney extravaganza in at least three dimensions has already opened, albeit to some mixed reaction, and at least two other productions are scheduled for the Pittsburgh area.
There are musical versions. There are straight plays. There are one-man tours de force. There are the Muppets. There is even a cartoon version with the lovable, near-sighted Mr. Magoo in the starring role. What kind of Christmas would it be if those four ghosts did not appear to show that cantankerous old skinflint the error of his ways? What kind of Christmas, if that cute little moppet didn't get his turkey and give us one and all his blessing from atop his father's shoulder? What kind of Christmas, indeed?
There are those who argue that Christmas as we know it was in fact really invented by Charles Dickens with the 1843 publication of the novelette. There are those who find the author's plum-pudding view of the holiday less spiritual than they would like. There are those who point to the book's social critique of the plight of the working poor in 19th century England and dwell on the author's social conscience. Some focus on the theme of redemption; some can't get beyond the sentimentality. Yet despite some disagreement here and there, there is no question but that, along with The Nutcracker, the Grinch, and "The Night Before Christmas," this story of the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge has become an icon for the holiday.
The Actors Civic Theatre production is an adaptation by local actor/writer/director stalwarts Mary Chess Randolph and James Critchfield. Much of the dialogue comes directly from Dickens. Like many of the more low-key productions, it tries to play down the special effects, while maintaining as much of the magic as possible. For music, it uses traditional carols.
I am playing the ghost of Jacob Marley. This is my second go at the role. I played Marley several years ago in a production at the West Virginia Public Theatre. The conceit of that production was that a traveling troupe of actors have found themselves stranded without their costumes and scenery immediately after the Twin Towers attack, and they decide to put on a makeshift performance to keep people's spirits up. The show, after all, must go on. Still, soon after they begin the performance, almost coincident with Marley's eerie call f "Scroooooge," the magic begins. The show's going on then is a sign that we will not let the terrorists win. It is, in this sense, the troupe's equivalent of going out shopping, going on with our lives. No doubt Dickens would have approved.