Paul Hecht cannot recall a specific time he hasn’t loved “A Christmas Carol.” Odd, for a nice Jewish boy growing up in London, he said.
He always responded to the redemption aspect of the circa-1843 Charles Dickens novella, one that so many forget and desperately need during the holiday season and otherwise — but there is also beauty to be found in portraying the miserable, nasty, pre-transformative Ebenezer Scrooge, he said.
“I love the total meanness of Scrooge at the beginning. It suits the sorts of characters that I play,” the actor explained. “He’s just absolutely foul and mean and horrible. It’s so wonderfully mean. And I also love the fact that, at the end, he goes, ‘Oh! I’ve made a terrible, terrible mistake, yes. I see the error of my ways. I’m not going to do that anymore, I’m going to be good.’”
Together with Harris Yulin, Amanda Kristin Nichols and John Kroft, the four actors will embody every side of Scrooge, and the colorful characters who cross his path, during a free reading of “A Christmas Carol,” followed by a sing-along, on Thursday at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor.
“I’ve always loved to read things out loud and, in the last 20 years of having moved back into the Springs, I’ve been very community oriented,” Hecht said. “I thought it would be a nice thing to do. This whole sense of how important community is to us these days, and just the whole idea of doing ‘A Christmas Carol’ with a few nice actors and reading the story and singing songs afterwards, it seemed like a lovely community idea.”
After several weeks of discussion — “and actually sitting down at a kitchen table,” Hecht said — he and Will Pomerantz, associate artistic director at Bay Street Theater, edited and adapted the staves version that Dickens himself once performed around the world. He electrified audiences with his heart-warming tale of Scrooge, the man who goes from calling Christmas a “humbug” to embracing all that is good in the holiday and humanity.
“He was a great lover of the theater. He was a man of the theater. He was a great performer, apparently,” Pomerantz said. “He had a very successful touring of England and the world, where he would just speak about his work and his life and his characters, and also he would do a special performance of ‘A Christmas Carol’ — in which he would read the story and become all the different characters.”
Read book in hand, the play is divided into five staves, or chapters, and whoever is the narrator for each also portrays Scrooge, the writers both explained. Or, as Pomerantz put it, “tag-team Scrooging.”
“I chose the first and the last, because I love them the most,” Hecht said of the staves. “I’ll be doing a couple of the ghosts; everybody will be doing little bits and pieces. It will be like a live radio play. Will seems to love doing sound effects and I thought it might be a cute idea. So who am I to stop him?”
He hasn’t and Pomerantz has forged ahead. The artistic director said he hopes the one-time audience comes away with a gentle reminder to get back in touch with their own humanity, while Hecht already has his sights set on next December.
“So often people think of the theater as something not for them, and this is the sort of thing that encourages people,” Hecht said of the free reading. “I think this event, especially at this time of year — apart from the pleasure of the piece itself, which everybody thinks they know — it will encourage people to come back and enjoy the theater as a comfortable community space to go to. It should be a charming, comfortable, cozy, communal event and I hope everybody has a good time. And I hope we do it again next year.”
A one-night-only reading of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” will be held on Thursday, December 20, at 7 p.m. at Bay Street Theater, located at 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. The performance will also include live music by Dan Koontz, followed by a sing-along with caroling and eggnog in the lobby. Admission is free, but reservations are highly recommended. For more information, call (631) 725-9500 or visit baystreet.org.