“Why do A Christmas Carol in August?” Proximity Theatre’s resident playwright and principal director looked at each other first before answering my question about their new play, which will be performed over the next two weekends at La Cumbre Junior High. “We talked about that a lot,” began playwright Karina Richardson, “and we knew that it was important.” “Yes,” added director Kyra Lehman, “that was something we knew people would ask. The point of it is that we wanted to do this story, and to look at its message, but without the trappings of the holiday season when it kind of gets held at a distance.” “The idea was to strip a lot of that habitual response away,” said Richardson, “and to lay bare the real message of the piece. … A lot of people might know this story as one of those things that they put on their holiday to-do list, but we wanted to take it off that kind of regular, scheduled piety and look at what it is really about, which is excess and disconnection.”
In a way this decision — to take a holiday classic and isolate it from the holiday season — captures something important about Proximity Theatre, which is their tendency to work from the inside out. Rather than choosing a story and attempting to “cover” it in a familiar way, they get inside a text in rehearsal and live there until something new and original emerges. Similarly, as a collective organization with a repertory company of actors who return each season, Proximity is held together more by personality and style than by allegiance to the values of some external institution or venue. Playwright Richardson — who acts as well and will play Scrooge — is only one aspect of a balanced set of creative contributions. Proximity’s shows are equally shaped by Lehman’s direction, which is very physical and overlaps with choreography, and by her husband Ken Urbina’s original music, which he develops through the same rehearsals and in the same time frame as the rest of the show.
No description of the Proximity Theatre experience would be complete without some mention of two young actors who have been in all of their productions, Jake Himovitz and Chiara Perez del Campo. These two, who were memorably satirical Capulets in Proximity’s Romeo and Juliet, both have important roles to play in A Christmas Carol. Del Campo will play the ghosts and will also fill a new role that Richardson developed for this production: that of the playwright. “The part is based on the same idea that you see in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town with the stage manager,” said Richardson. “She’s a narrator, and she’s onstage as well.” Himovitz, whose comic impulses have had a big impact on previous Proximity productions, will play what is perhaps the most crucial role of all: Tiny Tim. One of the most interesting questions raised by this production (which also takes place in the future and in New York City) is how the beloved and potentially saccharine role of the disabled child will be reframed in this new vision.
One early clue might be found in the group’s collective response to its newest member, Luka, the infant son of founders Lehman and Urbina. “It’s like he’s got 15 million uncles,” Lehman told me, “and he’s taught us all a lot about what it means to surrender to someone else’s needs.”
Proximity Theatre Company presents A Christmas Carol at the La Cumbre Jr. High Theater (2255 Modoc Rd.) on August 23-26 at 8 p.m. and August 25 and 26 at 2 p.m. For more information, visit proximitytheatre.org.