“A Christmas Carol” – dramatic versions of Charles Dickens's beloved holiday novella – abound this time of year. But one may be unique in the County.
In Olney Theatre Center's production of “A Christmas Carol,” Paul Morella portrays the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, as well as 49 other characters in a one-person show, including the three Christmas ghosts, the Fezziwig family and Tiny Tim.
He even portrays three or four characters at once, with a mere turn of the head.
This “Christmas Carol” grew out of an earlier one-man show in which Morella played defense attorney Clarence Darrow at the Arts Barn. A staff member asked him to return the following year and give the same treatment to “A Christmas Carol.”
At first, Morella thought “it wouldn't work.” Later, he changed his mind.
The show evolved to some degree because of lack of funding; unable to pay someone to collect tickets, Morella began to collect them himself – dressed in costume.
“People liked it, the informality,” Morella said. “I invited people in to hear a ghost story. Sometimes lack leads to theatrical ingenuity.”
This is the eighth year he has been performing his “A Christmas Carol” at the intimate space of Olney's Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab.
“The play has taken on a life of its own,” Morella said.
“Spending the holidays with family nowadays [often] means going to Black Friday sales at the mall or hitting the megaplex for the latest Star Wars installment,” said Jason Loewith, Olney's artistic director. “I'd much rather celebrate with my family by settling into a comfy seat by the fireplace and listen to one of the best actors of his generation tell me Dickens' simple story of greed, redemption, and the true spirit of the season.”
When he was a kid, Loewith continued, the holiday season didn't start until he watched the “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on TV– an annual tradition that put him into the right frame of mind.
“I think that's why so many folks come back each year to see Paul's show,” he said. “And it's also important to note that every year Paul makes little changes here and there to his performance, and we add new production elements that make the experience just a bit different. He loves it when audiences notice these differences.”
Morella also loves it when his performances make audiences notice that there are differences between their perception of what they think Dickens wrote and what he really wrote.
“They realize they hadn't remembered ‘A Christmas Carol’ the way it really was,” said Morella. “People have sentimentalized it. The story is dark and bleak, which makes Scrooge's journey more potent. 99 percent of what I do is from the novella.”
The actor adds different imagery or descriptions every year. He also may emphasize different themes, such as the gap between rich and poor that's “at the heart of the story.”
“Every year I look for a way to take the play apart and put it back together,” Morella said. “I try different things.”
There aren't a lot of stage effects in his “A Christmas Carol,” and there are no costume changes to suggest different characters,
The props, on the other hand, have multiple lives. A stool starts out being a stool but then becomes a Christmas goose. “It's theatrical simplicity,” Morella said.
Another thing that doesn't change is the thrill Morella feels doing what he does.
“A one-person play is an actor's Everest, something everyone aspires to,” he said. “A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas,” a solo performance by Paul Morella in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab, runs tomorrow through December 31 (with no performances on November 29-30, December 6, and no evening performance on December 13 and 27.) “A Christmas Carol” is intended for ages 10 and up.
Tickets can be purchased through the Box Office, at 301-924-3400, or at: www.olneytheatre.org.
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