Cast comes from near and far for Totem Pole's 'A Christmas Carol'
Totem Pole Playhouse will take its acclaimed production of “A Christmas Carol” to The Maryland Theatre for three shows running Friday, Dec. 6 through Sunday, Dec. 8.
The summer theater venue, based in Fayetteville, Pa., originally presented its adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic in 1987 at the Central Center in Chambersburg, Pa. The show, which walks through the redemption of miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, went on to become an annual fixture at The Capitol Theatre until 2004.
After a 10-year hiatus, “A Christmas Carol” returned during 2015.
The cast is comprised of more than 40 professional union, non-union, and local Maryland and central Pennsylvania actors. Shane Partlow of Baton Rouge, La., who was featured in the Academy Award-winning 2018 film “Green Book,” portrays Bob Cratchit, the poorly treated, underpaid clerk of Scrooge. When Totem Pole revived the show, Partlow said, the group rebuilt the set.
“It’s a massive set that revolves,” he said. “It’s two stories and it rotates during the show. One side is the town and the balcony. The other side is inside, you know, Scrooge’s office and bedroom. It’s quite massive.”
To accommodate the new set, the production was moved to Gettysburg College’s Majestic Theater. “A Christmas Carol” will run there for the fifth consecutive year the weekend before Christmas.
In addition, Totem Pole has a contract with The Maryland Theatre for the production for the first weekend in December through 2022. The production was recognized two years in a row as a Best of the Best award winner by the American Bus Association.
Partlow said having a cast of professional and non-professional actors from various walks of life “brings the community together.”
“The look and feel of the show is very, very real,” he said, “from Tiny Tim who just turned six years old to people in their 70s.”
Noah Travis stars as Tiny Tim, who delivers perhaps the most widely-known line from the story, “God bless us, every one.”
Rowan Joseph, Totem Pole’s producing artistic director, directs the show and adapted the script from the 1843 novel. In doing so, Joseph restored many of the Christian references from the novel which often are omitted from modern versions.
“You know, the show opens with a prayer and closes with a prayer,” Partlow said. “It’s taken 98 percent verbatim from the original works of Charles Dickens. It’s good for all ages. It’s very fun and visually appealing to everyone who has seen it.”
Paris Peet of Greencastle, Pa., has a long history with Totem Pole’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” Peet has played Scrooge each year since the production was remounted, and his oldest son portrayed one of the Cratchit children prior to the show’s hiatus.
A theater professor at Shippensburg University, Peet said he has always been a Dickens fan.
“I remember reading the comic book when I was a kid. I think it was a ‘Classics Illustrated.’ I saw all the movie versions but my favorite was the black and white one with Alastair Sim,” he said. “I just really love Dickens. It’s such a treasure and it translates so well into theatrical performance. The characters are just delicious.”
Repeating the character of Scrooge and keeping it fresh each year is a welcome challenge, Peet said.
“I just keep trying to develop it and so that’s been fun, is the way that I look at it,” he said.
Having new actors portray other characters helps Peet explore his own.
“With each new actor that comes into the show, you adjust what you are doing to what they are bringing to the performance. That kind of shapes what you do,” he said.
He compared the plot of “A Christmas Carol” to the late 1940s, early ‘50 reality TV show, “This Is Your Life,” during which the host would lead guests through retrospectives of their lives in front of an audience.
“It’s really funny that way. Scrooge gets tested to see what happens — past, present and perceiving the future. It’s a very interesting kind of psychology,” he said. “He perceives the other ‘fools’ as joyous and happy individuals. That’s just his way of bringing them down to his level of unhappiness.”
The story leads both the audience and Scrooge through a viewing of his life.
“You get the backstory to understand where some of that comes from, especially as Scrooge was a child and a teen,” Peet said.
In terms of bringing the curmudgeonly character to life physically, Peet said he thinks of Scrooge as having “like, dinosaur arms, clutching his hands.”
“He’s like a carnivore, trying to bite into something that’s in his mouth. It’s ugly. It’s this weird kinesthetic thing that kind of makes sense to me,” he said. “It’s something that’s been with me since the beginning. Sometimes things come to you and you run with them.”
Peet said he looks forward to taking the show to the newly-renovated Maryland Theatre.
“It’s a bigger house. It’s going to be sort of a different experience in some respects. Both the Majestic and The Maryland Theatre are these beautiful old houses and so when you are in them, you feel like you are part of their history,” he said. “That is exciting.”
Top photo: Bob Cratchit, right, played by Shane Partlow, pleads with Ebenezer Scrooge (Paris Peet) in Totem Pole Playhouse’s production of "A Christmas Carol." (Photo by Andy Smetzer Photography)