"I was saying the other day, the only part I haven't played in this show is Bob Cratchit, and that includes the female roles," laughs Bryce Kemph, veteran TheatreSquared actor. But this year, he's doing something new with the annual production of "A Christmas Carol." He's the associate director, and his job, he says, is "making sure Amy Herzberg's vision comes through."
"It makes approaching the story a little less daunting" when you know it inside and out, Kemph says. "Fortunately the cast and crew are all amazing and make my job very easy. And I think that's what makes it not difficult at all to direct a role you have played -- because these fantastic humans are bringing themselves to the characters, and I just focus on telling the story."
TheatreSquared's "A Christmas Carol" is the traditional tale with a twist. In this version, adapted by T2 co-founders Herzberg and Bob Ford, the story starts and ends in a Victorian library on Christmas Eve, just a few days after Dickens' novel was released. As T2 publicists describe it, a librarian (Michelle Jasso) takes pity on a boy waiting for his parents long after closing time and opens her last copy of the brand-new book. Soon, their world is transformed, and they imagine their way along with Ebenezer Scrooge on a fantastic journey through past, present and future.
Herzberg has been drawn to Dickens' work for much of her career, she says, including having adapted several versions of "Carol" over three decades and directing Ford's adaptation of "Great Expectations" for T2 in 2016.
"Dickens empathizes profoundly with children, revels in family," she says of her fascination with his work. "He trains our eyes on the forgotten corners of humanity. His characters are indelible. And he finds hope for redemption in even the least hospitable London counting houses. There's more than one reason we all look forward to returning to the story of Ebenezer Scrooge so wholeheartedly each holiday season."
James Taylor Odom was a graduate student in the MFA Acting program at the University of Arkansas when he first started appearing on the T2 stage.
"My first job here was understudying all the male roles in 'A Christmas Carol' back in 2013," he reveals. "Ten years later, and I am playing Scrooge.
"Ebenezer Scrooge is absolutely one of the most iconic roles in the tradition of theater," he says, and "has the widest array of emotions that a character could possibly experience."
"It's always a tricky thing for me when I'm not only returning to the same role, but to the same production as well," Odom says. "There is a lot that my body and soul remembers. ... The challenge that's presented is that there will be new people, new elements and new ideas. You have to be open to those things.
"When you consider that Scrooge has lived most of his adult life cut off from his deepest and most vulnerable feelings, you can imagine that once they're unearthed, they are experienced with great magnitude," he muses. "When I used to prepare for this role, I found myself using a lot of my own life to get me where I needed to be for the journey. As I've grown more familiar with the role, I find everything is right there in the present for me. It has become more of a fusion now of my own imagination and the visceral circumstances surrounding me in every moment of this play. It's a challenge not falling to pieces in every scene. For example, if you had the opportunity to revisit pivotal and painful events in your own life and could see them play out right in front of you, would you not also weep at the very thought?"
‘A Christmas Carol’
WHEN — 7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday & Sunday, Dec. 1-18; special holiday performances 2 p.m. Dec. 23, 10 a.m. & 3 p.m. Dec. 24
WHERE — TheatreSquared, 477 W. Spring St. in Fayetteville
COST — $20-$54
INFO — 777-7477 or theatre2.org