For the past three years, Terry O’Brien has been summering with Shakespeare and wintering with the Fezziwigs.
The artistic director of the celebrated Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival began a journey with Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” in 2009, when four festival actors performed the section of the holiday classic involving the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Last year, the actors — Eleanor Handley, Katie Hartke, Richard Ercole and Stephen Paul Johnson — added the Ghost of Christmas Present to the staged reading, which they performed (as a “Holiday Party with the Fezziwigs”) in the center hall of the mansion at Boscobel, the HVSF’s summer home.
Fezziwig, of course, is an old boss from Scrooge’s apprentice days, a man who taught the young Scrooge the value of a generous employer.
This year, they’ll add the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, and bring the entire Dickens story to life, not only at Boscobel, but at West Point, in Ridgefield, Conn., and in Katonah over the next three weekends. It’s one of several productions of the Dickens tale across the Lower Hudson Valley between now and Christmas. (See a sampling of productions here.)
The HVSF “Carol” employs O’Brien’s approach to Shakespeare: actors, audience and text, with no extraneous bells and whistles. They use neither props nor costumes.
“A lot of productions I’ve seen were either overly produced or felt cloying, overly sweet and sentimental, and didn’t get into the meat of the story,” O’Brien says. “It’s a ghost story; a story about death and life. In the end, if Scrooge doesn’t go to the dark place, the ending isn’t as joyous as if he goes all the way there.”
O’Brien knows how to tell dark tales, having directed a stunning production of “Hamlet” for the festival’s 25th anniversary season this summer. Things turn out better for Scrooge than they did for the doomed Dane.
When he read Dickens’ 1843 work, O’Brien says, “I was most impressed with how the narrative has all the richness and the depth and the commentary on what people were thinking. I wanted to bring that to life dramatically.
“We’ve found that dividing the script up into small pieces really propels it. There’s something about performing it briskly that makes it funnier, but also makes it more moving.”
This production will move from Boscobel to West Point to the Ridgefield Playhouse and The Katonah Museum. Each performance will be followed by a feast of sorts and a chance to mingle with O’Brien and the actors.
“The piece feels like it belongs in an intimate setting and each of these settings has that,” he says.
After three winters of Fezziwigs, O’Brien feels comfortable with the material.
“It took a little while for me to figure out what we’re doing with Shakespeare,” he says. “I think we’ve come upon a way of doing this particular piece that I really feel is ours. I feel like this production really has a heart and the best of what it’s like to hear a reading of it but also what it’s like to see things acted out by actors.”
If you go
What: A staged reading of “A Christmas Carol”
When: 7 p.m., Dec. 2, 9, 16; 6 p.m. Dec. 3, 10, 17.
Where: Boscobel, Route 9D, Garrison.
Tickets: $75, including a post-show reception.
Other stops on the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival tour:
West Point: 5 p.m. Sunday. $65 for performance and cocktail reception. Herbert Alumni Center, West Point. 845-446-1582.
Ridgefield, Conn.: 5:30 p.m. Dec. 11. $50 with post-show reception; $30 for reading only. Ridgefield Playhouse, 89 E. Ridge St., Ridgefield, Conn. 203-403-2690. www.ridgefieldplayhouse.com.
Katonah: 5 p.m. Dec. 18. $50, $35 seniors and children younger than 12. Ticket includes performance, post-show feast and exhibition entrance. Katonah Museum of Art, 134 Jay St., Katonah. 914-232-9555. www.katonahmuseum.org.
Photo by Seth Harrison/The Journal News: Stephen Paul Johnson is the scowling Scrooge in Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s staged reading of “A Christmas Carol.”