Few people know that I’m originally from Los Angeles County. When I was a child, my family left for the East Coast not long after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. Had we stayed longer, I’m sure my mother would have taken me to the theaters, including South Coast Repertory (SCR) in neighboring Orange County. SCR is a Tony Award-winning theater that was founded in 1964 in Costa Mesa, California.
One of SCR’s founding members, Richard Doyle, stars this season as beloved curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge in Jerry Patch’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Also in the cast are Daniel Blinkoff, Sol Castillo, Michael Manuel, Rosney Mauger, Jennifer Parsons, and Tamlyn Tomita. Directed by Hisa Takakuwa, the production runs now through December 26 at the Segerstrom Stage.
Doyle’s SCR credits include a solo audio performance of A Christmas Carol; Outside Mullingar; Holy Days; The Beard of Avon; You, Nero; and Cyrano. Doyle’s film and TV appearances include the role of Mr. Gaines on Cheers, M*A*S*H, Coma, Air Force One, and Mass Appeal. He also works extensively as an animation voiceover actor in cartoons, video games, and podcasts, lending his voice to characters in Sky Commanders, Batman, Ben Ten, Spiderman, MGS 3, Exeter, and Solve.
I called him one evening to find out what Orange County audiences can look forward to in his Scrooge.
Doyle explained to me that he is “a storyteller at heart.” Indeed, his love of telling stories began in his childhood. One source of inspiration was his mother, when he would go to her school after his let out. He observed her on one occasion explaining to a classroom of kindergarteners and first graders how Santa lost his boot. “She’d made a paper mâché boot to show the kids. I remember her techniques of drawing the audience in, holding them, and the quiet pauses,” Doyle said.
A Christmas Carol was actually the first play he remembers seeing in a theater as a child. His brother played Ebenezer Scrooge. Doyle told his mother, “I want to do that.”
She replied, “Well, I’m sure you’re going to get your chance.”
Many years later at SCR, Doyle has his chance to be Scrooge. In his 36th season he’s performing in one of Orange County audiences’ favorite annual shows.
He shared a lot of positive feelings with me about getting to work with director Hisa Takakuwa, whom he’s known since she was a teenager. “We had a Zoom meeting. We were laughing because we were answering each others’ questions before we even asked them,” he said, laughing.
Doyle also commented,
[Hisa] is very much a text person. When you’re teaching young people the ideal approach to theater and the roles in a play, you really go back to the very basics. Those always comes down to what is in the text, what is in the story, and how you support the truth of the story. This is the approach she’s had with her young people in the conservatory and when we came together to work.
The basics are essential for a production to be successful, as Doyle emphasized: “If you see a play and you go away thinking, I didn’t get that play, it’s probably because the director did not enforce those basic rules.”
When I asked Doyle what were some important lessons he learned early in his career, he answered that the abilities to listen and to understand text were key to his actor’s toolkit. Those are particularly useful in his work as a voice actor. “People don’t see you so your gestures and facial expressions don’t mean anything. You have to be able to read a text and get from the text the meanings that you need to tell the story. Then it’s all in your voice, your inflection, and how you read and how you emphasize things.”
Last year, Doyle was able to play Scrooge in a special solo audio production of A Christmas Carol, using the text of the novella version. “I played all of the characters, much as Charles Dickens would have done when he read it back in Victorian England. It was sent to all of our subscribers so that they could have A Christmas Carol in their Christmas before we got back to it this year.”
Aside from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Doyle recommends The Chimes as worth a read. While it shares similar sorts of elements and characters, he pointed out that The Chimes incorporates something that A Christmas Carol doesn’t have: “the Christmas tree, which was really Dickens’ iconic image of Christmas. He says that it’s a structure, a tree with lights and presents underneath that doesn’t cast a shadow.”
Doyle noted the physicality required in productions of A Christmas Carol. “These are frightening encounters that he has with the ghosts, as they might be for anyone. He is thrown across the stage. He dives across the stage. He dives across the bed as he’s pursued by these phantoms.”
However, they are part of the text for a reason, not just for the comedic aspects audiences might find. It’s necessary for Scrooge to be moved by the ghosts throughout the evening. “There’s nothing subtle about the way the ghosts approach Scrooge about his misgivings about the holiday season. They show these things very clearly to him and he reacts very clearly to them.”
His approach is, as mentioned before, to stick with the text of Jerry Patch’s adaptation, to remember elements from the original novella, and to support the story. “It is a physical challenge. It is quite a role to access while you’re on stage all the time. The story is always revolving around you…I hope [audiences] go away with a lot of quotations besides ‘Bah, humbug!’ and they go away with little pearls of Dickens’ wisdom about mankind.”
Doyle is excited about the reach SCR has in the community and the enthusiasm of audiences when it comes to A Christmas Carol, a show that is very much a family affair after nearly 40 years. “We definitely appreciate the Orange County audience, our patrons for decades. We certainly are glad to welcome them back to the live stage at SCR and to do it with this rebirth production, which in itself offers people a chance to revisit some new ideas, or some old ideas, to give them new thoughts about the holidays.”
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the SCR website.