Providence nonprofit theater company Trinity Repertory continued its annual Christmas tradition with its 46th production of Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol” which premiered Nov. 9. The production was directed by Aileen McGroddy MFA’21.
Although the core story remains faithful to Dickens’ original novel, the annual production evolves each year to accommodate different directorial visions.
This year, McGroddy was careful to ensure that the production was reimagined in a way that feels “authentic to us right now” while also doing justice to the original novel, she said in an interview with The Herald. “It's a myth that sits at the center of a lot of people’s experience of Christmas.”
She also expressed her excitement at working on a classic that audiences were likely to be familiar with. “There’s always something really exciting about going to a piece of work in which people know the story,” she said. “You don’t go see ‘Romeo and Juliet’ so you know what happens at the end — you go see ‘Romeo and Juliet’ to live inside of that world, to experience the various people’s points of view on the piece.”
McGroddy collaborated with her actors closely while also granting them creative freedom, according to actress Jenny Nelson MFA’23, who played the Ghost of Christmas Past. Nelson added that the collaborative process, which involved “different groups of people coming together,” was a great learning opportunity for her, especially after reentering the acting world after three years in her Master of Fine Arts program.
“What happens over the course of a rehearsal process is that everybody else's imaginations become a part of the piece,” McGroddy explained.
The role of Scrooge is played by Phyllis Kay, who has been a Trinity Rep member for over 30 years. Watching so many different actors play the same role over 25 years helped her gain perspective on the character, Kay said. “It’s impossible not to have different versions that I’ve seen in my head in some way.”
Scrooge is a traditionally male role that is played by a woman in this production, but McGroddy emphasized that if the audience leaves thinking the casting decision is a shocking or revolutionary choice, “I don’t think we’ve done our job.” The play “should make you think and feel a lot of different things about grief and redemption and opening yourself up,” she said. “Any person can go through that.”
Apart from some organizational challenges brought on by the pandemic, the actors experienced technical difficulties surrounding stunts they had to perform, Kay said. While Nelson flies onto stage as Ghost of Christmas Past, Kay was unable to do this as Scrooge due to the “physical limitations” associated with her age. But they were able to adapt the script and performance to accommodate these limitations, she added.
Trinity Rep’s productions of “A Christmas Carol” have “brought families together for more than four decades and made memories for nearly two million audience members,” according to a press release from Trinity Rep.
It’s just “an incredible story” that is “so deeply embedded in our culture,” McGroddy said.
“A Christmas Carol” will be running at the Trinity Rep’s Chace Theater through Jan. 1.