ALL about… ‘A Christmas Carol’

Madelyn Otcasek

Actors put a new spin on an old classic

The holiday season is upon us once again, and thus we are filled with countless versions of timeless Christmas tales. Television, stage and radio stations will be ringing with holiday cheer until December 26. Luckily, the Largely Literary Theater Company is performing Charles Dickens’ classic tale, “A Christmas Carol” with a new spin.

For the first time in Kent, Mark Dawidziak brings the three-person adaptation to life this weekend at The Kent Stage. Dawidziak both directs and acts in the play as narrator Charles Dickens and the role of Ebenezer Scrooge is played by Tom Stephan. Playing the other roles, including the three ghosts and the men and women is Sara Showman.

The company has a reputation for taking literary works and performing them in minimalist theater. Since the company was founded in 2001 by Dawidziak and Showman, it has performed adaptations of Mark Twain and Edgar Allen Poe’s work.

Both Kent State alumni, Stephan and Showman have appeared in shows in the area, including plays at Weathervane Playhouse, Beck Center for the Performing Arts and Porthouse Theater Company.

Dawidziak is particularly excited to be putting on the show in Kent for the first time.

“Believe it or not, we’ve been trying to get to Kent since our first show,” he said. “We’ve toured it all over, from Cleveland to Columbus. We’re looking to make The Kent Stage our home in Kent.”

In addition to the show in Kent, they are performing at the Coach House Theater in Akron.

“We want to get as many people as possible to The Kent Stage,” Dawidziak said. “They mostly have folk and jazz acts, and people don’t think of it as a place for theater.”

The idea for a three-person interpretation was brought about when Showman, Dawidziak’s wife, was itching to get back into acting after their daughter entered kindergarten.

“As an actor, you don’t get to control much, so I said, ‘Why don’t we control something?’ I asked her, what do you want, and I’ll write it,” he said. A Dickens scholar, he was put off at first when she suggested The Christmas Carol, but he soon figured out how to make it work.

“As a writer, you look for a way into the story,” he said. “There was a way and a reason (to do this) with three people … It’s a trapeze act. I like going off the diving board with things, I don’t like playing it safe.”

Dawidziak decided to put more emphasis on the dark side of the tale.

“It’s a very dark story, it’s a ghost story. Dickens called it his little sledgehammer, to hit people over the head with the poverty and the need out there. It’s very timely now.”

He also made a point to be true to Dickens’ original words.

“People always try to improve his language, and it doesn’t work. It’s a grown-up Christmas Carol, and we use 95 percent of his original language.”

Besides using only three actors, the play uses minimal props and space. “The audience becomes a willing partner,” he said. “What you picture in your mind is better than what’s on-stage. We cut down the space, we want to be as close to the audience as possible. If you surround it with smoke and mirrors and all that tech stuff, you create more space (between the actors and the audience). We don’t use light cues, and no special effects.”

He likens the show to something that can be performed in one’s living room. “We fit the space (we’re given). Everything fits in the back of a van, the actors, the costumes, the props,” he said.

They also created their own “wing space,” a set of panels that can be used if the space they are performing in doesn’t have a traditional stage. Dawidziak said Showman has “15 different roles, with extensive costumes,” so she uses the wing space to change costumes.

He also said Stephan as Scrooge “doesn’t talk a lot, he’s mostly an observer. He has to sell the show … He plays Scrooge at all ages.”

Dawidziak promises to bring a new and enjoyable turn to the classic account.

“The way we have designed it, it keeps going, no one stops talking … it’s really an actor’s show.”

Contact ALL correspondent Madelyn Otcasek at [email protected].