If you’re like me, the lack of snow on the ground and this week’s warm temperatures haven’t quite put you in the holiday spirit. To counteract Mother Nature’s refusal to provide us with the appropriate weather, I’m spending my time today thinking about Geva’s production of A Christmas Carol. (I know, I know, I’m tempting fate by suggesting that it’s not cold enough here in Rochester, but this weather just isn’t doing it…)
This is the third adaptation of the Dickens novel that Geva has produced, and our third year producing this version, adapted by artistic director Mark Cuddy, with music and lyrics by Gregg Coffin. In 2010, while preparing a guide for student matinee audiences, our education department sat down with Mark to get his thoughts on the process of tackling a much beloved, often re-imagined tale. It’s a great conversation, and I think highlights the story that fascinated Mark. The education department has graciously allowed me to share it with you.
“I think the challenge in any well-known classical story is in trying to get back to whatever the original artistic impulse was,” explains Mark Cuddy, author and director of Geva’s new adaptation of A Christmas Carol. “Whether you’re directing or adapting something from an original source, you’re trying to ask what is at the center of the work so that you can capture that spark. After all, it was always new at one point: why did that writer or composer make it in the first place? You’re trying to work with that same curiosity and intention.”
For Cuddy that point of curiosity was Scrooge himself, and a search for the deeper personal reasons why Scrooge’s story happens. Why would a man become so closed off from the world, and then why would he need to undergo such an astonishing transformation? Cuddy found he was interested in a story of redemption that comes from the man’s unique experiences and choices, rather than a tale of a surprise supernatural rescue, and so he prefers to think of the spirits’ visits as Scrooge’s dream, which is one possibility suggested when Dickens allows Scrooge to awaken in his own bed and discover, “The spirits have done it all in one night!” The new adaptation pays close attention to cause and effect, and it prioritizes a depiction, not of the whole world of London society, but of how Scrooge, uniquely, views the world around him.
“What’s the traumatic event that sparks his nightmares? I started playing with the question of why that happens on that night. In the adaptation I have really tried to keep him as the center focus: how we track his journey and what he goes through.”
For instance, Cuddy shaped one important moment that happens just before Scrooge leaves the office on Christmas Eve: “I think he really comes close to hitting that young child who is singing a carol, and it kind of freaks him out a little bit, that he could lose it that much. I think that really does something to him.” Cuddy also reflects about the full course of Scrooge’s life so far: “I think it’s about mortality; I know myself that at a certain point you do start to think ahead about the last years of your life, and the end of his life and his death have got to be on his mind, or else he wouldn’t have the dream of Ghost of Yet to Come.” One of the very first images that became important to the new adaptation was the appearance of gravestones and gravediggers both at the beginning of the play – marking the anniversary of Marley’s death – and later – Scrooge’s dream of his own death. “What else is dead in Scrooge’s life besides Marley?” Cuddy asks. “Memory, joy, life, hope, possibility? Love?”
“Scrooge is in mourning for his life and doesn’t know it. That’s what he realizes, it’s not that he’s going to die, it’s that his life is dead, that he’s lived a dead life.” But, Cuddy reminds us, “This is a story about redemption. My favorite Shakespeare plays are the romances, those final plays where someone is given a second chance. That redemptive spirit, I think it’s very American, actually, we give people second chances all the time.”