Deck the Hall with Dickens
By Tom Wachunas
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
THEATRE: A Christmas Carol, from The Players Guild Theatre, at Mary J. Timken Theatre in the Fine Arts Building of Kent State University at Stark, 6000 FRANK AVENUE NW, NORTH CANTON, OH/ Performances through December 18, 2022 / Box Office 330 – 244 – 3224 / Dates, tickets, and performance information at:
Background, and cast/crew information at:
As a consumerist society in a mad world, what practices have we adopted to truly honor and savor the who and the why of Christmas? Conversely, how many of us have become souled-out and surrendered to the what of the ‘holidays’ - namely all the feckless commercialism and trivial superficialities we routinely heap upon them? For the moment, let’s forget jolly old elves, Rudolf, and Red Ryder Range 200-Shot BB guns. For the moment, let’s celebrate the efficacious conflation of classic literature and enthralling live theatre as one powerful device by which we can embrace the essence of Christmas.
To that commendable end, The Players Guild Theatre is currently presenting, for the 41st year, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. This year’s exhilarating new production, in its new home, was adapted for the stage by Beth Knox. The impressive scenic and authentic costume designs by Joshua Erichsen include meticulously rendered architectural facades and interior room sets that rotate scene-by-scene on an ingenious, large turntable. Beyond the luscious choral harmonies delivered by the Dickens Singers, the superb live music from the six-piece orchestra was arranged, composed and conducted by Steve Parsons, who also directed the amply talented cast.
As the dark, sullen Ghost of Jacob Marley, Henrick Sawczak will sting you to your bones as he whips and cracks his heavy chains through the air and on the floor like bolts of lightning. Ashley Luli plays the Ghost of Christmas Past with charming, childlike innocence, imbued with a healthy dose of grown-up wisdom. Robert Trushel’s magnanimous Ghost of Christmas Present is all infectious ebullience until he leaves Scrooge on a very loud note of angry warning. As Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, Sam Marazita gives us a heartwarming picture of irrepressible optimism and willingness to love his unloveable uncle. Equally heartwarming are Matthew Heppe as Bob Cratchit, and Gabriel Amiot as his son, Tim, in their earnest and tender portrayals of high-spirited gratitude even in the face of cruel, humbling circumstance. All of the cast members – adults and children alike – perform with palpable, invigorating credibility.
Finally, then, Jim Graysmith’s presentation of Ebenezer Scrooge is an absolutely compelling embodiment of one man’s cathartic transformation from vitriolic misanthrope into lifelong disciple of selfless generosity and dispenser of joy. Even in the scenes when he’s not directly a part of the action, as he looks at the proceedings from a distance, we can still see clearly the sharpened, captivating expressions of genuine delight and wonder, or sorrow, or painful soul-searching on his face.
In the 1843 introduction to his popular novella, Dickens wrote to his readers that he hoped his “Ghostly little book” would “haunt their houses pleasantly.” Did he have any idea of the urgency and relevance his story would still have nearly two centuries later? Talk about timeless storytelling.
The Players Guild’s production isn’t about capturing the spirit of the tale only for the sake of feel-good entertainment. Call it a benevolent contagion, releasing that spirit into our active lives. The continued tradition of keeping this beautifully faceted, lustrous gem of a narrative shining is truly a necessary labor of love. Maybe all we should want for Christmas is to see more of us become redeemed Scrooges - instruments of hope, healing and light for those who desperately need it in an ever-darkening world.
Meanwhile, Thank You, Players Guild Theatre, for the blessing of your artful and inspiring agency in haunting our lives pleasantly.