Bay City Player’s Bring Fresh Insight into Charles Dickens Classic ‘A Christmas Carol’

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Theatre,   From Issue 800   By: Robert E Martin

06th November, 2014     0

There is little argument that the classic story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his mystical change of heart upon experiencing the human condition through the spiritual conduit of Tiny Tim as rendered in Charles Dickens’ classic ‘A Christmas Carol’ stands today as one of the most beloved and well-known tales in the lexicon of Christmas lore; and as part of their 2014-15 season, Bay City Players are presenting new twists on this timeless classic through an adaptation written by Doris Baisley in a series of holiday performances running December 5-14th.

Dickens novella, which first appeared on December 19, 1843, tells the story of bitter old miser Ebenezer Scrooge and his transformation resulting from supernatural visits by Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future. The novella met with instant success and critical acclaim at a time in early Victorian era Britain, which was a period when strong nostalgia existed for old Christmas traditions, coupled together with the introduction of new customs, such as Christmas trees and greeting cards.

While Dickens sources for the tale appear to be many and varied, scholars agree they primarily stem from the humiliating experiences of Dickens’ childhood, his sympathy for the plight of the poor, and various mythical Christmas stories and fairy tales.  Many critics initially viewed the tale as an indictment of 19th century industrial capitalism and with restoring the season to one of merriment, festivity and hopefulness after a historical period distinguished by sobriety and somberness.

Dickens' Carol was one of the greatest influences in rejuvenating the old Christmas traditions of England but, while it brings to the reader images of light, joy, warmth and life, it also brings strong and unforgettable images of darkness, despair, coldness, sadness and death. Scrooge himself is the embodiment of winter, with his heart restored to the goodwill and innocence he had known in his youth.

While Dickens' humiliating childhood experiences are not directly described in A Christmas Carol, his conflicting feelings for his father as a result of those experiences are principally responsible for the dual personality of the tale's protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge. In 1824, his father, John, was imprisoned and 12-year-old Charles was forced to take lodgings elsewhere, pawn his collection of books, leave school and accept employment in a blacking factory. The boy had a deep sense of class and intellectual superiority and was entirely uncomfortable in the presence of factory workers who referred to him as "the young gentleman".

As a result of this, Dickens developed nervous fits. When his father was released at the end of a three-month stint, young Dickens was forced to continue working in the factory, which only grieved and humiliated him further. He despaired of ever recovering his former happy life. The devastating impact of the period wounded him psychologically, colored his work, and haunted his entire life with disturbing memories. It was also during this terrible period in his childhood that he observed the lives of the men, women and children in the most impoverished areas of London and witnessed the social injustices they suffered.

It was during a fundraising speech in October, 1843 in Manchester that Dickens urged workers and employers to join together to combat ignorance with educational reform; and realized in the days following that the most effective way to reach the broadest segment of the population with his concerns about poverty and injustice was to write a deeply felt Christmas narrative, rather than polemical pamphlets and essays. It was during his three days in Manchester that he conceived the plot of A Christmas Carol.

For Bay City Players director Leeds Bird, the key goal with bringing this presentation to the Bay City stage is to keep such a familiar and beloved tale fresh and appealing to audiences. “I selected a version of the play written by Doris Baizley,” he notes. “She has constructed a play in which a troupe of traveling actors come into the theatre to perform Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’. So we have two stories running simultaneously, with the group of actors putting on the show with their fair share of problems, and then we have the Dickens’ classic taking place as well.”

The cast for this production is quite large with 10 children and 17 adults. Scrooge is performed by Kurt Miller, Marley is portrayed by Mike Wisniewski, and Cratchet is played by Cameron Pichon. “But there are dozens of other roles and many of the actors play several,” adds Leeds.

“As the Director, my biggest challenge is coordinating all the actors that are present on stage throughout the entire show,” he continues. “The audience sees them add costume pieces to assume different roles and the actors move into and out of scenes freely, so keeping a sense of focus for the audience and within the cast is primary. But there is an added charm for the audience in seeing how this magic is created.”

When asked what he feels it is about the book and scripting of ‘A Christmas Carol’ that makes it so powerful, Leeds points to the powerful endurance of its truths. “Dickens’ small novel is responsible for changing the way Western nations have looked at the Christmas holiday. It is considerably more than a fairy tale set at Christmas. It is a comment on the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in Dickens’ times, ergo in our times as well. It speaks to the human spirit to address our constant need for change and in accepting responsibilities for our fellow men and women.”

In addition to this innovative translation of Dickens’ classic, Bird says audiences will also benefit from the fresh renovation of the Bay City Players’ theatre. “It will be exciting to put the two Trap Doors we have installed into use – bringing in spirits from the future, ghosts from the netherworld, and even a tiny tombstone in the future.”

Tickets for ‘Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ can be purchased by calling Bay City Players at 989-893-5555 or you can order online at baycityplayers.com.

 

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