A Very Different Dickens: Lesser-Known Players to stage ‘An Actor’s Carol’

in Stage, The Lesser-Known Players
A very different Dickens: Lesser-Known Players to stage ‘An Actor’s Carol’-2
A very different Dickens: Lesser-Known Players to stage ‘An Actor’s Carol’

Thursday, November 29, 2018 9:26am

The redemption of Ebenezer “Bah! Humbug!” Scrooge, arguably one of the most famous characters in English literature (as told in Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella “A Christmas Carol”), is a defining tale of the modern holiday season, and has been dramatized and adapted countless times for virtually every medium and performance genre.

But never quite like this.

“An Actor’s Carol,” a new and as-yet unpublished work by playwright Charles Evered, will be staged by Bainbridge Island’s own Lesser-Known Players as the group’s annual quasi-holiday show, throughout two weekends in December at Rolling Bay Hall.

“We try to avoid the Christmas-y thing, so it’s more of a spoof on Dickens than Christmas itself,” said Jennifer Hodges, Lesser-Known Players’ executive director and the show’s director.

“While kid-friendly, [it] offers a little something different for the holiday season: a fast-paced, laugh-out-loud send-up of the Dickens classic, set in a run-down theater right here on Bainbridge Island.”

Evered, the man behind “The Size of the World,” “The Shoreham, and “Celadine,” among others, reportedly offered the new work to LKP himself after having read good things about the group’s recent production of “Celadine.”

The play first premiered at the Hi-Desert Cultural Center in Palm Desert in 2015, starring Hal Linden in the title role, though the LKP production will be only the third ever, and the show’s Washington premiere.

“One of the things we liked about the script was it invited us to rewrite it in certain places with local references, so we’ve definitely taken advantage of that wherever we can,” Hodges said. “I think it operates on several levels. In the one sense, it’s hilariously funny and unexpected, with lovely theater jokes and all that. But, on the other hand, this is one of my favorite playwrights … his scripts are very tight; there’s not a word out of place.”

Though penned by a Yale grad, nods and nudges to Kitsap’s local theater world abound throughout the comedy, including several familiar faces set to appear among the “super-secret cameo crew,” Hodges hinted.

“Our production features original, suitably irreverent holiday music by Bainbridge Island composer Jon Brenner, and special cameo appearances by some very familiar faces from the Kitsap County theatre scene,” she said.

In the play, burned-out actor Hugh Pendleton (played by Nelsen Spickard), not-so-fresh from playing Scrooge too many times in a backwater Bainbridge community theater company, where his once-promising career has met its unglamorous end, is surprised to encounter three spirits of his very own — each a character sure to terrify any actor — and a possible shot at a redemption tale of his own.

Spickard said his character shares much with his most famous role — so much that he doesn’t even see the similarities.

“He’s an actor of a certain age, in his 60s, and just like Scrooge he’s devoted himself to a career that excludes a lot of things that most people count on — marriage, love even, happiness,” he said. “He’s a miserable old sod, but doesn’t realize it. And that’s what the evening is about, the revelation as he meets these three different characters that represent facets of theater life.

“It’s about a man’s transformation through a night.”

The cast (those who have been revealed, that is) also includes Geoff Schmidt, Tyler Weaver, Bronsyn Beth Foster and Duncan Menzies. Karen Hauser is assistant director; Jim Cash, who also plays a caroler, is in charge of tech.

Weaver, a founding member of Imagined Reality Improv, will put his spontaneous skills to the test in this show, playing four separate roles.

“I play Hugh’s much put-upon nephew, who runs the theater,” he said. “And then I also play his original theater professor … in the past.”

That plus two other roles — and some rather quick costume changes — makes for a night of fluidity that might rattle other actors. But Hodges said casting was undertaken with just such expectations in mind.

“We tried to pick local people who are perfect for the parts they play,” she said. “One of the reasons I chose Tyler is because he runs Imagined Reality Improv, and so it’s a nice chance for him to play a bunch of different parts.”

Embodying another much put-upon character is Duncan Menzies, who plays Derick, a sort-of Bob Cratchit character.

“He’s the 20-something young person who wants to deep down be an actor, but gets stuck with all the backstage jobs,” Menzies said. “He’s this really endearing character who kind of gets overlooked and put on the back burner. He has this mangy dying cat who is kind of like the Tiny Tim character. His parents died and so this cat that’s dying, that’s crippled, that can’t get out of the carrier, is the only thing that he has left.”

“But that doesn’t prevent Pendleton from being really mean to him,” Hodges added.

Indeed, if the challenge of redemption were no so daunting, the success would not be so sweet.

“It’s the story of redemption,” Weaver said. “It’s kind of like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ too. The whole thing is about figuring out where your place is in life and what really brings you happiness.”