Dickens Takes Part in ‘Carol’

Posted November 19, 2004 at 5:10pm

Audiences can expect to see a new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ traditional story at the Ford’s Theatre’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas,” which opens Tuesday and runs through Jan. 2.

The adaptation, written by Michael Wilson, has Dickens come to the theater to put on a performance of “A Christmas Carol,” said Matt August, director of the production. “The ghosts of the theater help Dickens tell the story,” he said.

“The power of Dickens’ imagination wakes the ghosts to tell this morality tale of how the community and the gods have to fix Ebenezer Scrooge,” August said. “The theater comes alive for the classic telling of the story that society is sick and needs to be fixed through the sacrificial journey of one man.

“It’s not so much a holiday story as it is a parable,” he said. “Scrooge really does go through something extraordinary for the people who get to witness his journey.”

August described the production, his first at the theater, as “a wonderful, fantastical, moving version of Dickens’ classic.” He said he hopes the production is “as moving as it is reading the Dickens.”

Not only does the adaptation offer new, more fantastical scenes than the traditional version, but it also has a 24-member cast of “amazing actors” and a new design, which is “going to be gorgeous,” August said.

August described the cast, which includes children, as “very diverse.” “It’s the first time there has been diversity in ‘A Christmas Carol,’” he said.

“It feels like it’s a real community that’s up there on stage,” he said. “It reflects the world that we’re in right now. There’s something in it for everyone.”

The theater has been putting on the same adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” for more than 20 years. “Everybody has been eager to see a new production,” August said.

“It’s a little daunting to know that it’s been going on for so long and has been so exquisitely performed in the past,” August said. “There is a level of expectation that we have to rise to.”

Martin Rayner, who plays the characters of Scrooge and Dickens, is “an unbelievably talented guy,” according to August, who has worked with Rayner in two previous productions in New York.

Rayner said preparing the new adaptation for production is “hard work, but the payoff will be worth it.” The adaptation “explores things in a very different way,” he said.

Rayner, who played Scrooge about 20 years ago in another company, said he was “born to be Scrooge,” because he is “little and can be mean and joyful.”

“It’s like returning to an old friend,” he said of playing Scrooge again. “Playing the same character again is a yardstick by which you can see how much you’ve grown as an actor.”

The role of Scrooge is “one of the more exhausting roles if you really commit yourself to that journey,” he said. “But I love it.”

Rayner, who also plays Dickens, said the author really did a reading of the story at a nearby theater during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. Dickens telling the story in the play and having Lincoln’s box at the theater add “an interesting mix of supernaturality” to the play, he said.

The show will be “really artistically fulfilling for me as an individual and for us as a company,” he said. “We are focused on doing the very best that we can.”

Rayner described the performance schedule as “horrendous,” with 10 shows a week. “But we gypsies are used to it,” he said.

“Washington is quite a different audience than I’ve played before,” he said. “It would do them good to see an old geezer change his ways, to see how it’s possible to be pulled away from habitual, preconceived behavior and see the world through fresh eyes.

“The only thing that’s ever changed things in a major way is changing people’s minds,” he said. “That’s what this job is. We have no clout in the arena of commerce and politics, but we get people into a room and change their hearts.”