There might not be any snow on the ground, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start getting into the holiday spirit. Premiering tonight at the Hatbox Theater, a new adaptation of Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol”. NHPR’s Sean Hurley went to a dress rehearsal of the show and is happy to report that Scrooge is alive and well and living in Concord – at least for the next two weeks.
Hatbox owner and artistic director Andrew Pinard leads me through the front door of his new playhouse- and boom - the 88 seat black box theater is right there. No lobby, no curtains. “So when audiences come in from the street,” Pinard says, “they literally walk into the theater. There’s no buffer.”
But Pinard says this “right thereness” works for the kind of intimate theater the Hatbox stages. “You know in a big space you have to be very big,” he says. “Just breathing in and holding your breath has an impact on the audience. They will hold their breath with you. It’s that intimate.”
Pinard describes the new version of “A Christmas Carol” I’m about to see - which he’s directing and which his wife Jill adapted. “She had a really wonderful idea about trying to portray Scrooge as human initially. So we open the play in a way I've never seen it open before.”
The play begins with Scrooge reflecting, mostly quietly, on his own mortality as against that of his old business partner, Jacob Marley. “Dead…dead…dead…” Scrooge says mournfully.
After this somber, very human moment, we slip easily into familiar Scrooge territory.
But despite all the bah humbugging that initial tone of a very human Scrooge, not a crab or a crank or an absolutely lost soul, lingers alongside a second, equally subtle shift in the working reality. What if, Pinard suggested to his wife, we – and Scrooge - weren’t exactly sure this was all happening?
“I asked her specifically to think about one line that always resonated with me from the story - an undigested bit of beef,” Pinard says. “We want the audience to kind of be uncertain whether this is actually happening to Scrooge or if it is all really inside his fevered tortured mind.”
After the play, I ask the actor Eric Hodges for some insight into his very human portrayal of Scrooge.
“I think a big part of Scrooge's arc, the way I've seen it, always preferred to see it, is that he would have changed all of this years ago if he could have,” Hodges says. “He's just had too many outside influences that wouldn't let him. This is a golden opportunity. I don't know if he realizes that at first.”
For Hodges, the psychological distance between the miserable Scrooge at the beginning and the rejuvenated Scrooge at the end, is slight.
Yes, it takes three ghosts to get him where he needs to be, but the idea here is that redemption is closer to hand than you think. “It's all about redemption,” Hodges says. “That's why people love the story so much. It’s also a chance to learn something about yourself. You can carry choose to wear those chains all your life or you can strip them away. It's a great message.”
A great message in an old story, with a subtle twist.