Tom McCabe has a problem with A Christmas Carol. He’s directed two stage versions of the holiday classic, and he says he’s always wondered about old Ebenezer Scrooge’s midnight conversion in the company of the ghostly Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come. “He sees his tombstone and decides to change his life,” McCabe says. “And I think, ‘Wait till somebody breaks it to him that he’s still gonna get a tombstone.’”
McCabe, who is a professional storyteller and theatermaker, thinks Dickens’ cautionary tale isn’t about being scared into goodness, but simply teaches “that being good and kind and generous is a whole lot more fun than being mean, cheap and downright rude.”
The Christmas Carol McCabe is presenting in Northampton this weekend and next promises to be a whole lot more fun than many seasonal renditions of the story, and certainly a whole lot different. McCabe is the director of PaintBox Theatre, the kid-centered adjunct to New Century Theatre. The nine-year-old troupe rings rambunctious changes on well-loved stories in a style that appeals to grown-ups as well as youngsters. Performed by just three improv-savvy actors playing multiple roles, the play includes on-screen art by local children, live sound effects (generated by Alana Young in this one), lots of audience participation and very high jinx.
All three of this show’s performers are veterans of previous PaintBox outings, “which makes communication quite fluid, but also a bit wild,” McCabe says. There’s a script, but a lot of the anarchic action comes out of improvisation, and he reports that this trio—Jason Czernich, Carissa Dagenais and Troy David Mercier—have been improvising on the improvs.
e_SDLqA Christmas Carol isn’t really a children’s story,” McCabe observes, though it’s become a family-friendly staple of stage and page. When he started thinking of giving it the PaintBox treatment, he says, “A lot of people were concerned about the scary stuff,” such as the ghost of Jacob Marley with his clanking chains. To mitigate the terror, Mercier enters as Marley with just a white sheet over his head, “which doesn’t work at all,” says McCabe. “So we ask the audience if he can kind of rev it up.” By the third try it’s gothically scary, “but now the audience has given permission. So we can have the best of both worlds.”
Czernich plays Scrooge—the only cast member wearing only one hat (in this case, a nightcap). By contrast, Dagenais not only plays all the women’s parts but also one of the Christmas ghosts and, in one sequence, three characters at once. For her, half the fun of doing this work comes from “the rewards of enriching children’s lives. When we sit on the stage as the kids file in before the show, I have the most wonderful butterflies and I find myself bubbling over with joy.”
This Christmas Carol, McCabe says, expands the play into “a full seasonal celebration” with carol singing during intermission and a pause during the party scene at Fezziwig’s to teach the entire audience to waltz. “You can do a waltz side-to-side at your seat,” he promises, “though I suspect a lot of people will get out into the aisles as well.”•
Dec. 14-15, 21-22, day and evening performances, $7 at the door ($5 for groups), Northampton High School, 380 Elm St., Northampton. Info at tommccabe.com.
Contact Chris Rohmann at StageStruck@crocker.com.