Ethington Cast Ready to Put Own Spin on Dickens’ ‘Christmas Carol’
By Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau
Widespread familiarity with “A Christmas Carol” doesn’t make the Dickens holiday classic any easier to put onstage. In fact, that might make it tougher.
The beloved story, officially 169 years old in December, opens a two-weekend run Friday night at GCU’s Ethington Theatre, and it’s a workout for all involved. There’s a gigantic cast of 52, not to mention nine locations and various special effects. And without a gifted actor who’s up to the demanding role of Ebenezer Scrooge, a production simply won’t succeed.
No wonder theatre companies aren’t performing it in such large numbers anymore.
Adding to the challenge, the College of Fine Arts and Production version, an Amlin Gray adaptation, arrives less than five weeks after the closing of the two-in-one operas “Comedy on the Bridge” and “Beauty and the Beast.” The short turnaround has had Assistant Dean Bill Symington, GCU’s scenic designer, and his stagehands racing to be ready for opening night.
“This is a brand-new, from-scratch show for us,” Symington said before Tuesday night’s dress rehearsal. “It’s one of the two or three most difficult we’ve done (since 2010), and some of the reason for that is timing. All of our shows have been huge (to put on) this year.”
Finally, don’t forget that most of us are walking around with at least one interpretation of “A Christmas Carol” lodged in our memory. But Symington said this might turn out to be the one that endures, thanks to the direction of Dean Claude Pensis.
“Claude gets to the core of the human story,” Symington said, “rehumanizing something so epic that it’s not even real anymore for some people. It’s more than just a ghost tale.”
With Michael Kary, a GCU alumnus and instructor, in the role of Scrooge, the Ethington production should have all the weight it needs. Kary’s turn as the Major General in “The Pirates of Penzance,” in the fall of 2010, endures as one of the great performances since the theatre program was revived at the University.
“Michael is the energy source, the furnace of the show,” Symington said. “It all rests on him.”
|‘A Christmas Carol’|
|7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through Dec. 2. Additional matinee at 2 p.m. on Dec. 1. For tickets: 602.639.8880 or email@example.com.|
Twins Claire and Joy Flatz, sophomores who lit up the stage in last spring’s lively musical, “The Boy Friend,” have roles in “A Christmas Carol” as Belle (Scrooge’s former girlfriend) and the Ghost of Christmas Past, respectively. Both said Kary practices what he preaches to his theatre students.
“He really pushes the idea to not let your instincts take the reins,” Joy said. “You need to do the work. There’s a method and a craft to this.”
In the skilled hands of Pensis and Kary, Claire said, the transformation of Scrooge is much more gradual in the GCU production than audiences might be accustomed to — and thus feels more authentic.
The sisters, who are from Vancouver, Wash., broke through last year with small parts in “Dracula,” which was directed by Kary and marked a raising of GCU’s game to the next level. They’ve also worked behind the scenes, with Claire serving on the crew for the recent operas and Joy functioning as stage manager for “The Sign of Jonah,” a play performed last month in the Thunderground venue on campus.
“There’s nothing like doing a job to give you respect for the job,” Claire said. “Divas do not get work in theatre.”
Symington said the twins have distinct personalities and aren’t considered a “package deal” by anyone in the college.
“The joke used to be ‘Claire — hair,’ because she had the longer hair,” he said. “Both are sweet and have a great work ethic, which we love, and positive attitudes…. Coming back this year, they’ve really grown into themselves.”
Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.