Hayswood rises to challenges in Dickens’ ‘Christmas Carol’
When Charles Dickens wrote ‘A Christmas Carol’ in only six weeks in the fall of 1843, he was so sure of its success that he refused to sell the rights to his publisher. Instead, he published it himself and sold an impressive 6,000 copies in the first printing.
Though not considered one of Dickens’ elite works, ‘A Christmas Carol’ is so wildly popular that critics rarely touch it, and that puts a challenge on the shoulders of any who choose to perform it. That the script would be faulted for a poor playing is unthinkable.
Hayswood Theatre produces an ambitious rendition of the Dickens classic with a cast more than 30 strong, a chorus, authentic dress, a beautiful set, and an instrumental solo.
Hayswood veteran Charley Swarens plays the penny-pinching Ebenezer Scrooge ‘ the character whose surname became an adjective for an unfalteringly grumpy or extremely morose individual. Swarens, a capable comic actor, produces a Scrooge who is pitiably ill-humored.
In an Emmy-nominated performance in 1984, the late George C. Scott gave us a Scrooge who was cold-hearted enough to be menacing and frightening. Scott’s Scrooge sounded convinced when he said that if the poor would rather die, ‘they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.’
Swarens’ Scrooge sounds less sure, and certainly not malicious. Though his message is callous, he seems to intend no real harm. He is a misguided miser who knows no better.
The result molds the tone of the entire production. The set is dark, but the mood is light. Very quickly, we want Swarens’ Scrooge to be redeemed. And quickly he seems to be on the path. Swarens’ take on Scrooge is neither more nor less appropriate, but it is different and probably a bit more child-friendly.
John Mortimer’s adaptation, premiered by the Royal Shakespeare Company, uses a chorus to interject Dickens’ ironic point of view. While intended to ‘enrich and propel the drama,’ the chorus can be distracting, shaking one out of the imagination and back into a theater seat.
A detailed, changing set and hand-sewn, period dress help audiences return to Victorian London. This has to be one of the best-looking shows Hayswood Theatre has attempted.
Most clothing was supplied by Taylor-Rose Historical Outfitters in Corydon. The authentic articles were researched and documented.
The set includes Scrooge’s canopied and draped four-poster bed, the office of his counting house, Old Fezziwig’s shop, and snow-covered facades ‘ including Scrooge’s own home and the mysterious knocker that takes the shape of Jacob Marley’s (Larry Riehle’s) ghostly face.
The set was constructed by Ron McClure, Rick Pauley and Riehle. Props were created by Patty McClure, Lydia Lutz and Kallie Johnson.
Some performers use English accents, and some do not ‘ an inadvisable mix. Given it’s a Dickens’ classic set in 19th century London, anything other than an English accent is a bit awkward, and the contrast makes it more so.
The script really drives ‘A Christmas Carol,’ but strong performances, including that by Swarens, are the fuel.
One joy of community theater is the surprise of seeing someone unexpectedly on the stage. Take for instance the head-phone-clad redhead who became a fixture last summer on Capitol Avenue in Corydon as she walked to and from work. Meet Kyndra Pegler, The Ghost of Christmas Past.
Pegler’s inflection and accent are wonderfully delivered. Since this is only her second play and first in four years, it’s safe to say she is a natural talent.
Laura Goins charmed audiences as the leading lady in Hayswood’s ‘Anything Goes’ and ‘Fools.’ Now she is deep in her bag of tricks as the fiddler providing musical merriment at Fezzywig’s ball. Really, is there anything she can’t do?
Lorna Mae showed tremendous improvement as ‘Bonnie’ in ‘Anything Goes,’ and she proves it was no fluke as Belle, Scrooge’s first love. Her role is small but her performance doesn’t escape notice.
Corey Long is convincing and charismatic as the Ghost of Christmas Present, which is nothing new for this capable Hayswood veteran.
Neil Brewer also gives a realistic performance as a multi-dimensional Scrooge in young adulthood. While Swarens shows us Scrooge’s redemption, Brewer shows us his fall to greed.
The child actors also succeed to please. Tanner Allen gives a bold performance as an adorable Tiny Tim.
The entire opening weekend of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ co-directed by Christol Sweeney and Greg Bone, sold out prior to the first performance.
This weekend, show times are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults and $10 for children and seniors.
Make reservations by calling Magdalena’s Restaurant at 738-8075. For more information, log on to the following Website: www.hayswoodtheatre.com.