By Julia Purdy
“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year!” With these words Scrooge appeals to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come to help him escape the dreadful vision of a bleak and lonely ending to his life. The spirit offers no sympathy, forcing Scrooge to face the fact that he himself must make it happen.
Scrooge awakens from his dream a new man, fully in touch with life.
So ends Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” Since 1900, the entertainment industry alone has produced at least 50 versions for film and TV. The recent stripped-down version of the “Carol” presented by local theater company Shakespeare on Main Street and directed by Gary Meitrott brings the emotional core of the story to the surface, without the distraction of lavish sets and special effects.
Five actors in period costume, on a spartan stage read an abridged version of Dickens’ text from pages in looseleaf notebooks, portraying the narrator and all the key figures in the story, accompanied by dramatic body language, like animated props.
Evan Breault, David Kiefner, Ken Kilb and Jonathan White rotated through the major male and spirit roles, and Meghan Wood portrayed Scrooge’s fiancee, Mrs. Cratchit, the nephew’s wife, and the Ghost of Christmas Past. All have acting experience and have played in previous Shakespeare on Main Street productions, including “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Hamlet.”
The reading theatre style allowed the plot to sweep toward the climax with no distractions. All the plot highlights were covered, including some that are sometimes overlooked in commercial productions. The starving children, Ignorance and Want, were shown, as well as Scrooge’s old associates, laughing over his demise. By the time we reached the sordid scene where scavengers are selling off Scrooge’s bed curtains and cutlery, we felt emotionally moved. Like Scrooge himself, we could look back over his life and see his failings. Scrooge was not the object of contempt but pity and contemplation, in preparation for his awakening, as a symphony bursts from a subdued minor key into a full major chord.
Dickens was a foe of laissez-faire economics that preached every man for himself. The chamber theatre presentation laid bare the central message of Dickens’ tale, as his deceased partner, Marley, put it: “Business! Mankind was my business! The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business.”
Director and founder Gary Meitrott likes the chamber theatre format because of its focus on direct communication through the medium of language. Shakespeare was his first love, although he also admires the 19th century authors such as Dickens, Poe and Melville. “Shakespeare is the Olympics of theater,” Meitrott said. “It taxes and tests and challenges all of us to understand how to work with language, we have to be actively listening, then it becomes easier to understand, being in the audience.”
Meitrott said this is Shakespeare on Main Street’s last season in its present form. The performances of “A Christmas Carol” this season were not a bad note to go out on.