A new and lighter Dickens classic
BRATTLEBORO — Vermont Theatre Company's rendition of its annual presentation of "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens will be a bit lighter this year thanks to Geof Dolman's child-like portrayal of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge and Director Jay Gelter's less formal dreamlike interpretation of the story. "A Christmas Carol" tells the story of a bitter old miser named Ebenezer Scrooge and his transformation into a gentler, kindlier man after visitations by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, and the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come. This is the fifth year that James (Jay) and Jess Gelter have alternately taken on Dickins' classic tale while staying true to his story, rewriting the script for a different take for a different cast.
This year, under Jay Gelter's direction, the dreamlike delivery raises the question did the ghosts exist or is it just a dream? Or does it even matter because ultimately Scrooge learns a lesson? Gelter said it took a lot of rewriting for this year's interpretation, taking advantage of the nonsensical sequence of events that dreams have that don't make any architectural sense, focusing on important stuff in the foreground, moving space to space without actually moving — an effect aided with lighting, a fog machine, and a snow machine.
New this year, there is no narrator. Gelter felt that would be too formal and not fitting for the dreamlike feel he was going for. Instead, music creates the segue and mood change between and during scenes. Jonathan Kinnersley, who acted and played the violin last year and is playing a beggar and a schoolmaster in this show, took on the role of musical director for the first time. He included 17 songs, both a cappella and those accompanied by instruments, performed by cast members who are part singers, part musicians for this show. Using twice as many instruments as last year, Kinnersley added a recorder, two violins, and a tambourine. Different variations of well-known songs will be heard, half of which comes from Noel Sing We Clear's playlist, including its version of "Joy to the World," plus some new music Kinnersley wrote. He said the toughest part was keeping track of all of it, but about the upcoming performances, he said, "All the singers are great, I am not nervous about the show because they are doing a good job. As always, it all comes together in the end. Jay's a terrific director. It has always been a great show.""
A different cast each year gives the production a different flavor, bringing different ideas while still keeping Dickins' vision in mind. The biggest influence is Scrooge, played by Dolman, who is new to acting and brought in new ideas about his character. Gelter said Dolman is an actor made for community theater, a natural talent who portrays a loveable Scrooge as a child who has never grown up. Gelter said it is inspiring to watch someone new to the process who so enjoys it. Even though the tragic aspect of the story can't be avoided, this Christmas Carol is a charming presentation due in part to Dolman's Scrooge.
VTC's Shannon Ward, who has been in "A Christmas Carol" four times in the past and has previous directing experience at the youth theater, was recruited as an assistant director to help Gelter because of a short rehearsal period. She directs while Gelter, wearing many hats, takes care of other things. She said she is really enjoying the experience and loves that the space they will perform in is at the high school's auditorium with a lot of playing space. However, she said, the challenge is to create an intimate show, and she encourages people to sit as close to the stage as possible.
The stage manager is Bruce Holloway and the play is produced by Justin Fetterman. The cast also includes Zoe Peterson as Christmas Past; Veda Crewe as Christmas Present; Tony Grobe as Jacob Marley and Christmas Yet to Come; and Jesse Tidd, Jessica Gelter, Andrew Marchev, Katy Peterson, Dylan Gallagher, Jonathan Kinnersley, Michael Reardon, Krista Coughlin-Galbraith, Robert Wellington, Fairen Stark and Jenny Holan.
Children in the cast are Evelyn Gelter, Lila Tadlock, Jaime Garvey, Gavin Holloway, Payton Looman, Jackson Grobe, Maddy Sprague, and Henry Grobe.
Performances are Dec. 13 through 16, Thursday, and Friday, performances, 7 p.m.; Saturday performances, 2 and 7 p.m.; and Sunday's performance, 2 p.m., in the Brattleboro Union High School's Auditorium, 131 Fairground Road.
Audiences will have the opportunity to donate non-perishable food items at the performances to receive $1 off per ticket. All food items will be donated to Groundworks Collaborative in Brattleboro. Tickets are $15 for adults, $13 for students and seniors.
Gelter said, "This being our fifth year doing the show, it has become a Christmas tradition for us like putting up the tree. Like every tradition, we do the same thing, but each year is unique. Like Christmas, it always seems new."
Cicely M. Eastman may be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 261.
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