[EDITOR’S NOTE: In response to an inquiry concerning this year’s production of Lit Moon Theatre Company’s show Humbug!, director John Blondell sent a message so replete with Eastern European atmosphere and holiday good spirits that we chose to run it in full as an alternative to the usual preview article. The show will be performed December 18-20 at 7:30 p.m. in Westmont’s Porter Theatre. A child will be admitted for free with every paid adult admission.]
Lit Moon developed Humbug! A (Lit Moon) Christmas Carol in 2007, following a fall tour that brought the company to Poland, Montenegro, and Macedonia for the first of what is now many times. I believe it was during the tour itself that we decided to work on Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. When the tour ended, my family and I spent a month in Hungary, and I remember an afternoon at a Budapest coffeehouse called Lukács. The raking late-autumn light streamed through the plate-glass windows; young, beautiful, black-uniformed and aproned waiters moved around the place like water bugs on a pond; and the room was filled with the aroma of cake, coffee, and the buzz of conversation. That afternoon was my first real inspiration for the piece and contributed to the costume design and my sense of some of the theatrical atmospheres that I wanted our staging of the piece to convey.
Upon our return from Europe, we commenced rehearsals around my family’s large farmhouse table. We worked in the late afternoon, and our children — who were young at the time — hung out, talked at us while we rehearsed, asked for things to eat, and generally contributed to an atmosphere of hearth, home, and hospitality, even though it was at times crazy making. I remember our first rehearsal vividly: For some reason, I had the idea that I wanted us to make puppets and masks out of bread or pie crusts, so we spent the rehearsal reading the script, kneading dough, trying to make puppets and masks out of them, and then baking and eating them. I’ve had a lot of bizarre, first-rehearsal notions, but that is one of the most memorable.
The table was soon to become the production’s dominant scenic element, and we started to use it in many ways — as desk, table, bed, and quasi-puppet theater. It dominates the stage, is redolent of the images of home, food, and family that dominate the center sections of the play, and figures significantly in the production’s ending moments.
We continued playing the show in 2008 and 2009; in 2010, we decided to move on to other things and actually created a different Christmastime show, which was called Once, a Traveler … during that season. Since then, Humbug! has been in the recesses of the company’s memory, waiting for the right moment to emerge again.
I wanted to work on it again this year for a variety of reasons: I think it’s a lovely little piece, and I wanted to see what the experience and knowledge of the intervening years would bring to it. I wanted to keep the artists of the company working. I wanted to build the company’s repertory again; this follows my desire to have a five-play repertory, which we can bring out and play at any time.
Admittedly, these are all surface reasons, reasons that have to do with the company as an ensemble of artists that need to work and with the continued growth of a theater ensemble. There are deeper reasons, though, ones that speak to the deep currents of meaning and feeling in Dickens’s story and in the performance that we have developed from it. It’s commonplace to think of this period before Christmas as “The Holidays” and to get caught up in the abundance of parties, travel, spending, and stress that become associated—whether one likes it or not—with the season. In the Christian calendar, though, the season is Advent: a season of darkness, loneliness, and waiting. For me, working on A Christmas Carol reminds me of this deep, primal rhythm. The story, for all the Christmas customs and traditions that are inspired by it, is dark, foreboding, and filled with loneliness. It is, I have to keep remembering, a ghost story.
Generally I like to revisit material to see what else we have to offer it. In this case, I like to revisit A Christmas Carol to see what it has to offer me, what it has to remind me, and what new phase of life it might invite me into. This, it seems to me, is what the story tells us: Ebenezer Scrooge is all of us, in various ways; we are all miserly, cold, unfeeling, uncaring, lonely, and afraid, and we all carry the potential for transformation and regeneration, to be made anew, and to melt the coldness that is within us for the warmth of generosity, kindness, and love.
Lit Moon Theatre Company presents Humbug! A (Lit Moon) Christmas Carol at Westmont’s Porter Theatre Thursday-Saturday, December 18-20, at 7:30 p.m. For tickets and information, call (805) 565-7140 or visit westmont.edu/boxoffice.