T2 creates new world for classic Christmas tale

T2 creates new world for classic Christmas tale



It’s 30 feet between the stage and light grid in TheatreSquared’s new West Theatre and, at first glance, the beautiful, towering set for its holiday production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” seems to use every single inch.

The richly appointed library, created by scenic designer Martin Andrew, has a second floor that’s accessed by an iron spiral staircase. T2 Director of Marketing Joanna Sheehan Bell says that there are somewhere around 1,600 books lining the shelves, created when T2’s scenic design staff went through a painstaking process of printing era-appropriate book spines with deep jewel tones onto canvas, then gluing them on to book-shaped Styrofoam blocks.

But that’s far from the most interesting thing about the set, which holds many secrets: Robert Ford, T2’s artistic director, and show director Amy Herzberg were determined to include surprises in their original adaptation of the oft-produced holiday classic. And many of those surprises come from Andrew’s quirky set illusions.

“I think most theaters, when they produce ‘A Christmas Carol,’ want to put their own spin on it,” says Ford. “It’s out there in the public domain, asking to be freshened up.”

In a way, the show is part of T2’s DNA: In 2013, it produced a version of the Dickens story adapted by Morgan Hicks, T2 co-founder and director of education and program development, and, through an outreach program, the company has been producing a streamlined version of that script during the holidays for years.

“[Amy and I] always try to find a way within the frame of the story that, if narration has to happen, there’s some intention behind the story,” says Ford. “We love [the Fayetteville Public Library], and we love books, and Amy had this idea: ‘What if we set it in a library?’ And then almost instantly, she thought, ‘What if there’s a little boy, left behind in the library?’ Then it started to crystallize for us: There’s a librarian who sees the little boy, and it suddenly gives us a set-up for telling this story.”

As a way for the librarian to keep this seemingly abandoned child occupied, says Ford, she begins to read Dickens’ story to him. As she does, the tale begins to take shape in the boy’s imagination — as well as on the stage.

Jeri Marshall is a Chicago-based actor who plays the part of the librarian.

“She is mirroring, in some ways, Scrooge’s path,” she says of her character’s arc. “She’s a little more withdrawn, a little more isolated, and this boy is kind of helping her while she’s helping him. She’s coming out of her shell and, indirectly, becoming like a mother-figure to him, because he’s been abandoned — at least that’s what she thinks. So when Scrooge is having a revelation, the librarian is feeling that same emotion — and maybe the boy is bringing that out in her.”

Herzberg is no stranger to Charles Dickens. She’s written an original adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” in the past and directed Ford’s adaptation of “Great Expectations” in 2016.

“Dickens empathizes profoundly with children, revels in family,” she says of why she’s drawn to Dickens’ work. “He trains our eyes on the forgotten corners of humanity, teases out our eccentricities and foibles like no other writer. His dialogue has never been surpassed. His characters are indelible. And most of all, he sees hope for redemption of even our most sordid tendencies. How could you not want to go back to him again and again?”

Ford says finding a production that is perfect for the holidays requires a specific, particular alchemy: family-friendly, a message of good cheer and bonus points for including some music.

“I’m going to sound like [Dickens’ ever-optimistic character] Fred — it’s a family time of year, and it’s also a time of year of joy and redemption and connecting and generosity and giving back,” says Ford. “We have always tried to find a play that expresses all of that.”

Marshall thinks this production has no problem making that point.

“It’s so easy right now, to be on our phones and detached in some way,” she says. “Things are so much more impersonal because of social media and technology — you can do your own thing and be in your own little nook. It’s so hard to highlight the themes of togetherness and caring for people who are less fortunate. If you’re so plugged into this” — she motions to her phone — “you can’t be plugged into other people. I think that message is so important, especially around the holidays.”



‘A Christmas Carol’

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. (Wednesday-Saturday) and 2 p.m. (Saturday-Sunday), through Dec. 27

WHERE — TheatreSquared, 477 W. Spring St., Fayetteville

COST — $18-$59

INFO — 777-7477

BONUS INFO — Christmas Eve shows are scheduled for 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Categories: Theater