Among the most intriguing aspects of the Granada’s mission statement is a pledge to become the originating organization for large-scale, professional theater. Peter Frisch, the executive director of the Granada, is an accomplished stage director with a very impressive list of shows to his credit. For his directorial debut in the theater that he took such a large part in renovating, he has chosen to offer an ambitious version Charles Dickens’s holiday classic, A Christmas Carol. The production, which stars Broadway veteran James Sutorius as Scrooge and Santa Barbara resident and Indy Award-winner James Brodhead as Marley, opens on Saturday, December 20. In addition to offering a 50-percent discount to children 15 and under, the Granada is collaborating with Kate Schwab to create a special performance and catered reception on December 21 for interested area book groups, who will be invited to enjoy a 20-percent discount on tickets and a reception in the Granada’s elegant Founder’s Room with Frisch and Sutorius.
I spoke with Frisch recently about the genesis of this new version of an all-time favorite.
How has this project been to work on? Did you look at a lot of stage versions of A Christmas Carol? Conceptually, it evolved from the novel. I had directed A Christmas Carol twice before some years ago in Boston at the Charles Playhouse. : But rereading the novel this time around I was struck by a very different aspect of the work, perhaps because of our historical moment. The whole current conflict between Wall Street and Main Street and between consumerism and greed led me to a darker interpretation. I began to see that, in order for Scrooge to really change, after 35 years of habitual focus on money, and to the exclusion of people and their feelings, he would have to undergo something quite extreme. I wondered again, what would it take to make someone like Scrooge change? And the answer I found this time was that it would have to come from his subconscious. Three ghosts in sheets, no matter how scary, just would not do it.
What did you come up with as an alternative to the ghosts in sheets? As a child and as a teenager, Scrooge still had some humanity, as we can see by how he reacts to the visit from his nephew, and to the anniversary of Marley’s death. But this time I began to see that for him to really change, the turning point would have to be more of a long winter’s nightmare than an external fright or haunting. The key to working with A Christmas Carol is always to find new ways of taking it seriously, and that’s what I hope we’ve done.
How are you handling the music? The score is not so much music as sound. Randy Tico has come up with all these wonderful ways of deploying the actual sounds of Victorian street life. He’s also built in layers of sounds that represent what you might hear when you shut your ears. There are a lot of clocks in the score, and at certain points they become heartbeats, because we wanted to get a blurring of the boundaries between inner and outer states.
Who wrote the script you are using? Israel Horovitz created this version in 1978, and, after having read some 10 or more other stage adaptations, I believe it is the truest to Dickens. His decision to use Marley as the narrator allows for the indirect discourse of the novel to enter the stage, which is crucial. The best language in the play is reserved for the narrator, and to put it on without that material would weaken the impact.
Tell me about the cast. The majority of the cast members are from Santa Barbara. Only four out of the 25 are from Los Angeles. Brodhead simply is Marley, and we are lucky to have him. James Sutorius is a brilliant Scrooge. He’s had six major Broadway roles, and it’s been a very creative rehearsal period working with him. There are seven Equity members in the cast, which makes it about half-and-half for the adults. Holly Ferguson has done a wonderful job as Fred’s wife.
And what can you say about the design? John Iacovelli is a tremendously savvy and experienced set designer. He has designed sets for the Mark Taper Forum and the South Coast Rep, among many others, and he has been great to work with. Marc Rosenthal put together the projections we will be using, and his recent experience has been mostly in Las Vegas. : You will be seeing something that is more in line with what Seal and Gladys Knight brought in than what you might expect from a more traditional Christmas Carol.
A Christmas Carol: Scrooge and Marley will be at the Granada starting on Saturday, December 20, and continuing through Sunday, December 28. For tickets and information, call 899-2222 or visit granadasb.org.