Ensemble Theatre Company performs quick-paced adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol’
You’ve probably never seen “A Christmas Carol” like this one.
Five actors portray all the characters — and sometimes, no kidding, the furniture — in a fast-paced Ensemble Theatre Company production that opens officially tonight for a run through Dec. 18 at the New Vic in Santa Barbara.
Mark Capri, who stars as Ebenezer Scrooge, is the only actor who has a single role. The other actors all have multiple roles, and that means there are times when they’re leaving the stage as one character and immediately returning as someone else.
“It’s madness,” director Jamie Torcellini told the News-Press. “They have to be supported by the entire crew. It’s quick. They exit, put on a new hat and coat, throw some snow over their head and come back.
“I almost feel like we should have a camera backstage so you can see the madness,” Mr. Torcellini said.
He explained the backstage crew is busy assisting the actors, preparing furniture for scenery changes and providing the special effects in the Dickens ghost story. “They never stop. They pick up their script and run to the next corner.”
The director said the result is a funny yet heartfelt production of playwright Patrick Barlow’s adaptation of the Dickens story.
“It hasn’t been done very often,” Mr. Torcellini, who likes the story’s themes of forgiveness and redemption, said about this adaptation. “We may be the second or third company in the United States to have done it.”
He said Mr. Barlow’s adaptation has more humor than Dickens’ original story. “There’s also silliness. Patrick Barlow does have a sense of the silly.”
Sometimes actors break the fourth wall and talk to the audience.
And if you haven’t seen “A Christmas Carol” like this one, chances are you’ve never seen a Tiny Tim like this. In this adaptation, he’s a lifesize puppet, handled by hands, not strings, Mr. Torcellini said.
Besides the fun and creative aspects, the adaptation offers more insight in Scrooge’s life, said Mr. Capri, 71, who has been looking forward to playing the iconic role since he was a young man.
“Thanks to this adaptation of the Dickens classic, there are facets in his story that are told in our show and not in others,” Mr. Capri told the News-Press. “We learn more about his background, his childhood, his schooling, his mother, his girlfriend.
“Scrooge is in a school that he was sent to because his father didn’t want him at home. Scrooge’s mother died in childbirth or soon after, and his father resents the child,” Mr. Capri said. “Scrooge was forgotten and put in a strict school with a cruel schoolmaster who damaged him as a youngster. He was in a love relationship with a woman, a relationship that he messed up because he prioritized goods and money over companionship and love.
“I don’t see him as a victim. I see the influence of the past on his present character,” Mr. Capri said. “I see him as an absolutely rich and complex character.
“I’m not particularly shy about playing the nasty side of this man,” Mr. Capri said. “Everyone knows he will be redeemed. When the time comes for his redemption, he is so reformed and changed that you can recognize him only if you’ve seen the clues beforehand.”
Mr. Capri, who first played Scrooge at age 16 in a high school play, added that he likes the adaptation’s blend of comedy and drama. “It’s ladened with jokes. The audience will find tons to laugh at, then the next moment the play’s either terrifying or heartbreaking. It’s a reason this adaptation is so special to me. It combines those three elements — comedy, heartbreak and terror — in one evening.”
Mr. Capri, who lives in Los Angeles, brings a lifetime love of acting to his role. After earning his bachelor’s in French and German in 1973 at Stanford University, the Washington, D.C., native studied at the Royal Academy of the Dramatic Arts in London, where he graduated in 1975. In the late 1970s, he performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company, then lived in New York City for 10 years before returning to California and eventually Los Angeles. He earned his master’s in art history in 1994 at Stanford.
In addition to his theater career, Mr. Capri has acted on TV shows such as NBC’s “Frasier” and in movies. In “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” (1980), he played Officer M’kae.
“I was a young man. It was a lot of fun. It was shot in Britain, and I was living in London at the time,” Mr. Capri said.
Later, he played one of the stewards in “Titanic” (1997). His character is the one who gets a bloody nose when Rose, played by star Kate Winslet, punches him in the face.
“That’s the scene folks remember,”” Mr. Capri said.
“I’ve been an actor for 50 years and an amateur actor for 10 years before that. It’s something I knew I wanted to do at an early age.”