Last year, when this adaptation was first presented, I included this note in the program:
Ordinarily I don’t write program notes preferring to let the work speak for itself—but these aren’t ordinary times.
Last week, coming into the theater, I was happy to see that the set was up, though it wasn’t yet complete. There was still painting to be done, lights for the show were being hung and focussed, stage management and design crews were hard at work, but the structure was there, under work lights—ghost light it’s called—waiting to be brought to life. Working in the theater that half-lit, half-ready stage is a familiar, comfortable sight. I’ve seen that stage, walked out onto others like it many times in my life, in many theaters in many different places. I hope to walk out onto many more, sometime when we aren’t all wearing masks, keeping distance, doing what we must to get the work done. Though I hadn’t thought of it in such a way before, seeing that waiting stage it seemed that perhaps A Christmas Carol could have a particular meaning for this time. Here we have the story of a man so frozen by grief and rage, living in a solitude so profound—‘Solitary as an oyster!’— that it takes a supernatural intervention to shake him up and open his eyes. Spirits present him with visions of his past, of loving families—his own and others—of strangers brought together sharing the best of themselves, in the process showing him the terrible cost of his self-imposed exile. Though he thinks he’s learned much, it’s only when he’s confronted with the vision of a child’s death and the terror of his own mortality that he forgets himself, begging for time, not for his own sake but for the child’s. Which is what saves him, the desire to reach out, to help another, is what makes him fully alive, able to find love, and the connection that makes us human.
Dickens’ folk-tale has seen many incarnations. I’m honored that Carl Walnau and the Centenary Stage Company have chosen to present this new adaptation of mine to keep their stage alight.
As Scrooge says, ‘If we can’t learn to be kind then we must perish.’
This year, I adapted and changed; because last year was like no other that I’ve known. The very fact that the play was staged, with so many seats cordoned off, was due to Carl Wallnau’s determination to keep the theater alive. As the Centenary Stage Company’s artistic director, also the director of the play, he found ways.
This year I wrote something different, something that might address why I made changes to Dickens’ story. The finished version includes a few cuts, or excludes some of this text, so it makes a faster read as you wait for the play to start.
A good story is never quite complete, never quite finished. There’s always room for more; room for speculation, speculation that lets it live on in our imagination after the author hits Save. Yes, after many perils, Beauty’s steadfast love—it really is quite admirable, a lesson to us all—changes the Beast back to the Prince. The End. Close the book. Yes. Unless… is Beauty maybe just a little… disappointed? I mean, wouldn’t she miss her Beast? After all, it was with him she fell in love. As the Prince takes her hand—he really is very handsome, and seems very nice, and happily ever after is certainly one option, but… well surely it can’t be the only option? What comes next?
In Dickens’ tale we are presented with a man so frozen by grief and rage, living in a solitude so profound—‘Solitary as an oyster!’—that it takes a supernatural intervention to shake him up and open his eyes. Spirits present him with visions of his past, of loving families—his own and others’—of strangers coming together to share the best of themselves, in the process showing him the terrible cost of his self-imposed exile from humanity. At the half-way mark, desperate to bring to an end the Spirits’ increasingly painful revelations, though he swears he’s learned his lesson, truly he has!, it’s only when he’s confronted with the vision of a child’s death and the terror of his own mortality that he is truly able to look past himself to beg for time, begging that he might be spared, not for his own sake, but so that he might save Tim. Which is what saves him; what erases the future and brings him back to life. Yes. And then what? Because surely there must be more. Good intentions, even the best of them, tend not to last—we all see that every day—and Ebenezer Scrooge is not an old man, he’s forty-five in the story—I know, I was surprised, too—but that makes sense; why would those Spirits—Past, Present, Future—go to the trouble of reclaiming him if he has no time left to use his reclamation? What does he do with his new understanding? And how does the story get told? Who is it he finally tells about that night his eyes were opened? When does he tell it? And why? Because I imagine that wouldn’t be an easy conversation. How could you reasonably expect anyone to believe there was once a Christmas Eve when you were sitting huddled over a miserable, sputtering lump of coal, drinking your customary bowl of gruel—made thin to save on oatmeal—surrounded, engulfed, by the darkness of your own stinginess, shivering, chilled to the bone. And then, the clocks went suddenly mad, and there were noises in the cellar, a fearful heavy rattle of chains coming up the stairs, and then the door was somehow open and Marley was there—and he’d been dead these seven years—and he was covered in chains and had much to say, and nothing made sense, and then he led you to the window and told you to look outside and… and…
We regret the past—we’d all like to get a chance to do it over, or at least some of it, while perhaps keeping hold of what was best—and fear the future: all we really have is the present. But what if we were given the chance to use the present to reshape the future? What would we do? Reclamation can start with opening the curtains. Letting in the light. Looking outside. Buying a goose. Going to Fred’s to beg his forgiveness. And finally meet his wife.
And then what?