By AARON KRAUSE
When Palm Beach Dramaworks (PBD) presents A Christmas Carol this year, the South Florida company will not stage one of the myriad adaptations available to theaters. Rather, performers will read from Dickens’ 1843 novella – just like the author read from his work.
“No play captures the words quite the way Dickens did,” said PBD Producing Artistic Director William Hayes, a huge Dickens fan. “He was a master at creating vivid characters and setting the mood. As we’re doing a reading, without sets and costumes, the words are everything. So, we felt we couldn’t do better than to go to the source.”
Nineteen artists – a “who’s who in the history of PBD” – will read from Dickens’ novella at 7:30 p.m. EST on Monday, Dec. 21. More specifically, each artist will read a portion of the book before handing it off to the next actor.
And in a further attempt to draw listeners into the story, PBD’s presentation will include artwork by acclaimed contemporary artist Roberto Innocenti. He illustrated A Christmas Carol in 1990.
“If a picture is worth a thousand words, than Innocenti’s illustrations are priceless,” said J. Barry Lewis, PBD’s resident director. “His drawings visually bring Dickens’ words to life. Each one brilliantly captures the narrative or a particular mood. The illustrations are sepia toned with muted color, and just draw you right into Dickens’ world in a way that speaks to a modern audience.”
PBD will use about 25 of Innocenti’s illustrations.
In fact, PBD’s original plan was to pre-record the performance due to the liberal use of illustrations and the large cast. However, a live performance on Zoom seemed like the next best thing to a live in-person performance.
“Being together with family and loved ones is a big part of the spirit of Christmas,” Hayes said. “Obviously, we are unable to be in a theater, to be in a shared space. The closest we can get to that shared space is watching the performance on Zoom at the same time as the actors are doing it live. It creates a sense of community, of togetherness. Ultimately, that became more important than whatever technical challenges we face.”
Among the 19 artists who will participate in the reading are Broadway actress Estelle Parsons. Among her credits are PBD’s production of My Old Lady. In addition to Parsons, “Wall Street Journal” drama critic Terry Teachout will read from the novella. And Teachout is no stranger to PBD. Specifically, he made his directorial debut with the company’s production of his acclaimed piece Satchmo at the Waldorf. Also, Teachout penned the commissioned play Billy and Me. It received its world premiere at PBD in 2017.
Parsons and Teachout will appear alongside Hayes and PBD Managing Director Sue Ellen Beryl. Both will return to their performing roots for the evening.
Meanwhile, the rest of the company, in alphabetical order, are Gary Cadwallader, Caitlin Cohn, Dennis Creaghan, Elizabeth Dimon, Rob Donohoe, Patti Gardner, J. Barry Lewis, Bruce Linser, Kathy McCafferty, Colin McPhillamy, Lester Purry, Angie Radosh, Karen Stephens, John Leonard Thompson, and Laura Turnbull.
Speaking of Rob Donohoe, he’s had “a lifelong obsession” with A Christmas Carol, as PBD writer Sheryl Flatow wrote in a Q&A with Donohoe. The veteran actor is a collector of A Christmas Carol memorabilia. Also, he has played the title character, Ebenezer Scrooge, several times. Donohoe even once coached four-time Tony Award-winning stage and film actor Frank Langella on portraying Scrooge.
To Donohoe, “the story is more about our humanity than it is about Scrooge. It’s Scrooge rediscovering his own humanity and embracing it again. And in doing so, we all learn that lesson from him.”
To read Flatow’s Q&A interview with Donohoe, visit https://myemail.constantcontact.com/Charles-Dickens–A-Christmas-Carol.html?soid=1102288667513&aid=DnkFeUsA3xs.
While access to the reading is free, you must make reservations. You can do so by visiting https://tickets.palmbeachdramaworks.org/TheatreManager/1/tmEvent/tmEvent372.html.