The Alliance Theatre stages its 25th edition of “A Christmas Carol” through Dec. 24.
SCROOGE, GLORIOUS SCROOGE. That cranky old geezer is sure to be restless on (or under?) the boards of the Alliance Theatre, sneering and snickering and counting his coins. We can also be sure that on Christmas Eve, he’ll tuck his miserable self into bed and have one doozy of a dream. And year after year, many of us choose to relive that dream with Scrooge, the central character in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
“We revisit this story,” says Rosemary Newcott, who directs the Alliance’s 25th anniversary production, “because Dickens’ tale holds ideas and elements that are central to the season of goodwill.”
“The essential story helps us recognize the compassion we should have for all human beings — no matter their circumstances,” says Newcott, the Alliance’s Sally G. Tomlinson Artistic Director of Theatre for Youth and Families.
Over the years, she has both acted in and directed the Alliance’s Carol. She’s eager to introduce a new Scrooge to this holiday tradition. After 16 years in the role, Chris Kayser hung up his night cap last season, making way for a new Ebenezer, Atlanta actor David de Vries.
“It helps that Chris and I are about the same size, at least in terms of body frame,” says de Vries. “Maybe that’s really why I got the part, because they don’t have to make new costumes for me. I can just wear his.”
“David is such an enormously talented actor,” says Newcott. “I mean this is a guy who has done everything from Glengarry Glen Ross to Wicked to playing the candlestick in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. He has such range, to be whimsical and also dead serious. As Scrooge, he gets to play all levels.”
The role requires a champion, she says. Scrooge is almost always onstage. As the play unfolds, he revisits his entire life — a life fraught with lost chances, loneliness, turmoil and regret.
De Vries calls Scrooge “one of the great roles of the English stage.” He’s had his eye on the part for years, and now, at 56, considers himself the right age. “The fact that I’ve had plenty of life experience by now, to me that’s invaluable to approaching this role. When you’re young, all you see in Scrooge is someone who is unkind and ungenerous. The more life you live, the more you understand how choices, circumstances and losses inform a person’s worldview. And hopefully you develop, at the very least, a sense of understanding and empathy as to why a person became the way they are.”
The actor calls Scrooge “an emotional anorexic who has built a fortress around his heart.” And he’s in denial, as are many people before undergoing a transformation or intervention. In this case, three ghosts handle Ebenezer’s intervention, de Vries says, and the end result is redemption.
“At the start of the play, he doesn’t see people as human beings, but rather as transactional entities,” the actor says. “He goes all the way from that to seeing them as people with hopes and dreams and love. To me, that’s the spirit of the show — the idea that it’s not too late for anyone.”
De Vries says he has no tricks in mind for putting his own stamp on the role previously inhabited by such Atlanta talent as Kayser and Tom Key.
“I have replaced actors on more than one occasion and here’s what I have come to know: Even if you do something similar, it’s not the same because you are you, and you have your own unique essence,” de Vries says. “You have to trust that as an actor, because if you start overreaching, it won’t seem authentic.
“All I can do is try to access my heart and understand the circumstances of the play and render them as honestly as possible. That’s what I’m shooting for.” The last thing he’ll do, he says, is “lose” himself in the role. He adheres to advice from a famous New York acting teacher, the late Uta Hagen. “She said you don’t lose yourself in the role, you find yourself. I like to find myself. We have to plumb the depths of our own experience. When you’re doing that and when you are really cooking onstage, believe me, you are aware of absolutely everything.”