'A Christmas Carol'

A holiday tradition, past and present

A holiday tradition, past and present

December 05, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

A chill infests the nearly empty Capitol Theatre on Sunday afternoon, as if restless spirits are swirling around.

And, as luck would have it, there are ghoulish goings on at the Chambersburg, Pa., theater.

A specter, cloaked in black, wordlessly hovers to one side of the stage. And wandering the aisles below is the man who would be Marley, rattling chains traded in for two shirts and a baseball cap.

Haunting The Capitol stage for a second time, this Marley, ne Patrick Ellison Shea, welcomes the repeated opportunity to spook theatergoers, not to mention a curmudgeon named Scrooge, anew.

"I usually play the neophyte, the sweet, innocent, earnest, silly. That's how I've been making my living in Washington," Shea says. "That's all I do lately, and it's nice to come here and be scary and, not evil but scary. I like that, I don't get that much."


Although it's been told many times, many ways, a holiday tradition returns Saturday, Dec. 7, when the Caledonia Theatre Co. rendition of "A Christmas Carol" begins a two-week run at The Capitol Theatre.

Adapted from the timeless Charles Dickens tale of faith and redemption by Totem Pole Playhouse producing artistic director Carl Schurr and associate artistic director Wil Love, the brisk, 90-minute production represents a homecoming of sorts for many of its principals.

Sure, some faces may change, and new child actors replace others who outgrow their roles. But choreographer Jan Puffer (Christmas Past) has made the trip from Minneapolis specifically to haunt Love's Ebenezer Scrooge. And there is a bit of comfort - and joy - in knowing Love will don the sleeping cap and slippers of Scrooge for the 12th time since this "Carol" debuted in 1987.

"There's something about all of us banding together that we love," says Schurr, joined by Love and Puffer at the beginning of a long day of rehearsals a week before curtain.

"We're all kind of like Mother Hens with this show," the director continues. "We started with it and saw it mature and change and grow for the better, hopefully."

But with so many of the show's two dozen "Carol"ers returning for another cup of Christmas cheer, how do they keep Dickens' holiday classic from spoiling like an undigested bit of beef?

"Freshness is all in the mind, actually," says Johanna Ezell, who has been with the production since Year One. "And you know, it's one of the few artistic forms that demands you do the same thing every night. It's pretty much in the head, but you do try to find new business, new stuff to make it fresh."

For some, like Ezell, the challenge is in tackling new roles from year to year. She, for instance, has transitioned from Mrs. Cratchit to character roles as Mrs. Fezziwig and Mrs. Dilber.

Shea, in his third appearance, is tackling Marley for the second time and is searching for subtle nuances to tweak.

After more than a decade as Scrooge, though, Love would seem to have the inside track to boredom. Not so, the actor says.

Because there is a constant influx of new actors, there are always new interpretations of the material, fresh perspectives to react to.

Besides, there are few better roles than Scrooge, which allows Love to play a broad range of emotions and styles, from anger to enlightenment, melodrama to physical comedy.

"I always feel satisfied when I can work up a good sweat as an actor," he says. "I feel like I've accomplished something."

Still chilly, the theater begins to buzz to life as actors consult on stage or study lines in seats that in one week's time will be packed with holiday revelers.

Schurr wanders from the stage to the rear of the theater and back again. Love and Puffer talk at center stage. Giant wreaths line either side of The Capitol walls, and from an upstairs rehearsal room come the faint sounds of "Silent Night."

The holidays are coming, and the troupe is about ready to shepherd in the warmth of the season.

"It's about time, really," Ezell says. "Time is running out for Scrooge, and it is about time: past, present and future, and his awareness that he can't change the past and the present is now and the future is only dire if he keeps on."

The company is used to sell outs for this show, which begins with a carol sing before each public performance. Just as there are cast members who wouldn't dream of missing a year, patrons return for every new version, even though there is no mystery in what they will see.

Like Ezell, Schurr points to the story and its never-stale message of hope and redemption.

"What I love about it is there, within all of us regardless of age or social status, is the ability to change and change for the better," Schurr says. "It's something we forget so we have to tell it every year."

If you go

"A Christmas Carol," presented by Caledonia Theatre Company

Saturday, Dec. 7, through Sunday, Dec. 22

Dates and times vary

The Capitol Theatre

159 S. Main St.

Chambersburg, Pa.

Tickets cost $12 to $23.

For tickets or information, call 1-717-352-2164, 1-888-805-7056 or go to on the Web.

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