How Chesapeake Country’s four Scrooges learn their lessons and teach us ours
by Carrie Madren Bay Weekly staff writer
As carolers harmonize with glad tidings and families merrily trim the tree, four Chesapeake men master their meanest bah humbug. It’s in the spirit of the season, to share the message of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, that each has transformed himself into the stingy, cold-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge.
Dressed in top hat and tails and an old, long-sleeved muslin nightgown a Scrooge must illustrate self-centeredness that chills the air. Then vulnerability must enter this hardest of hearts. Emotion by emotion, every would-be Scrooge must show us on the outside how he changes on the inside.
From tough-skinned to transformed, Scrooge brings Christmas tidings to Chesapeake Country in the persons of four actors who have spent weeks, months years perfecting their unique interpretations of the role.
Bay Weekly met this season’s Bay-side Scrooges in their plain clothes to show you how their Ebenezers are made.
Doug Dillner’s Flinty Scrooge
For me, it’s hard to get that cold with life. It’s not who I am on the inside.
Marc Goodman, of Twin Beach Players, brings a “caustic edge” to his role as Ebenezer Scrooge, above.
In previous performances of A Christmas Carol, Doug Dillner, right, has played Marley’s ghost. This year he plays the lead role of Scrooge in Colonial Players’ production of the classic. (Shown here with Rusty Russel as Marley’s ghost.)
Becoming Scrooge is ruining Doug Dillner’s posture. “I play him all hunched over, and I’ll be driving my truck, [thinking about my lines] and find myself hunching over,” says Colonial Players’ Ebenezer, who commutes in his Dodge Ram 2500 from Riva to the Naval Academy. One morning this fall, the professor of “plebe” chemistry drove up to the security gate and confounded the guard, muttering and singing a Scrooge song that included the lyrics mind your own business.
Acting is Dillner’s avocation. He’s learned from experience, acting since high school and lately in most of St. Martin’s Lutheran Church’s productions and many of Colonial Players’, including past Christmas Carols, where he’s also played Marley’s ghost, the undertaker, a couple of visiting ghosts (Christmas present and yet to come) and understudied for Scrooge.
Acting is also a skill he draws on in his vocation.
“I guess to be a teacher there’s an element of on stage-ness that you need,” Dillner says. “I try to bring a bit of whimsy into the classroom. I try to bring acting into the classroom if it embellishes what I’m teaching.” Bringing in a more human side to a mess of complicated equations, figures and numbers helps his students gain confidence, he finds.
In real life, Dillner’s far from a Scrooge. He’s a family man who works with lively Gershwin songs and military marches playing in the background and offers York Peppermint Patties to students who visit his office. During our interview, a colleague jokingly popped in for an autograph.
“Things don’t push me around or get me overly excited,” say the amiable professor, whose dream role is Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady.
“For me, it’s hard to get that cold with life. I have to crawl down into the caverns,” Dillner says. “It’s not who I am on the inside.”
Dillner wasn’t seeking the hard-hearted lead role when he auditioned, he says, but director Pat Browning cast him as Scrooge.
“So Scrooge found me,” he says. “They asked me to play Scrooge, and that’s just a wonderful compliment.”
Backstage, the tall, thin, mustached Dillner mulls a Scroogy mantra to get into character: coldhearted, selfish, no love for kids, resolute, stingy, hard and unfeeling. Dillner warned the young actor playing Tiny Tim not to approach him in this brooding state lest the young actor be scorched by Scrooge in the skulking, angry demeanor of his first scenes.
Dillner builds his Scrooge deliberately, researching how past actors have played the character and working the descriptors into his characterization including a streak of meanness requested by Browning.
Only in the last scene, at Scrooge’s epiphany, will you glimpse the real Dillner. Then, he says, “there’s this gush of positive energy, a warmth and friendliness that I suppose is a part of [the real] me.”
“It’s cathartic, almost, to play a role,” says Dillner, “But this role of all the roles I’ve played is the most gut-wrenching.”
That’s another reason the role has him muttering and hunching over.
“Scrooge goes from the bottom of life he’s given up on everything, he’s put himself through everything and just thrown in towel then all the good things of the past are brought to him. He’s devastated by all that emotion that he’s shut away for such a long time,” he says.
Playing Ebenezer Scrooge puts this actor on an emotional roller coaster.
“It wipes me out,” he says, “to go all that way down and all the way back up.”
He goes through the catharsis to send us a Christmas message: “My wish would be that if someone is focusing too much on the bad, that they would shift focus and seek the good. There is so much more good [in life].”
Tickets for Colonial Players Christmas Carol typically sell out in advance, but try for standby tickets 30 minutes before the show. December 6, 7, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15, & 16 at 8pm Th; 7pm & 9pm F; 2pm, 4pm & 8pm Sa; 2pm & 4pm Su @ Colonial Players, 108 East St., Annapolis. $7 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; www.cplayers.com.
Marc Goodman’s Acidic Scrooge
I’m more of a blue-blooded, upper-crust Scrooge than a mean Scrooge.
When Marc Goodman learned he’d again scored the role of Ebenezer Scrooge for Twin Beach Players, his thoughts ran to what kind of a Scrooge he’d be this time.
Goodman had played Scrooge in the group’s first Christmas Carol the first ever production for the fledgling company 10 years ago. He’s also directed and co-directed Dickens’ work for the Players and twice played the role of an eccentric narrator; and he has haunted the stage as Marley’s ghost.
As a founding member of the troupe, Goodman has been in all of the Players’ Christmas productions, including Little Women, where he played Professor Fritz Bhaer. For his favorite Christmas Carol role, the narrator, he lengthens his face and becomes a prim but lively old man who talks as if he’s caught a slight cold.
By profession, Goodman is an analyst of energy issues who dabbles in entrepreneurial ventures. His next adventure will take him to Samoa to help a friend set up a mill for coconut oil, which may be used as a source for biodiesel fuel.
By disposition, he’s a self-proclaimed “tennis bum, beach bum and boat bum.”
Acting is historical, creative fun for Goodman. All character roles are good, and Scrooge gives him plenty to work with as a history buff partial to Dickensian history. An 1880s Dickens’ volume from his library serves as an authentic prop in the production. He’s also using an antique cane that looks “like an old buggy whip,” he says. Bits and pieces of the authentic Victorian past combine with characterization to create his Scrooge.
With so much Christmas Caroling in his history, Goodman wanted to explore new territory this time. So he’s done a careful reading of the text and the times to discover how Dickens imagined Scrooge’s personality.
“Scrooge was of the gentry class, sent to boarding school at an early age,” Goodman explains. “He’s become an unaffected, hard-core business man. That caustic edge is more upper class.”
The dry sarcasm comes from Dickens, who gave his character lines like this: “You’re quite a powerful speaker, sir,’ he added, turning to his nephew. ‘I wonder you don’t go into the Parliament.”
Then, when director Bess Wilkins told Goodman what she had in mind for Scrooge, his eyes lit up.
“Scrooge is a complex guy, even though you think of him as cut and dry,” says Wilkins, a living history actress who performs in venues from schools to Renaissance festivals. Scrooge starts out sour, she says, but transforms into a decent guy.
It’s an acidic Scrooge that the tall, light gray to white-haired actor with defined features brings to the early scenes of this year’s production.
Goodman turns his own character around to get into the role before the show, backstage.
“Mainly as I get dressed, I start talking the talk and walking the walk,” he says. “I’m a curmudgeon backstage.”
And a little in real life too, he says.
“I’m a curmudgeon in the sense that I like to be left alone a good deal of the time,” he says. “And sometimes I have little patience for nonsense or noise.”
But curmudgeoning his favorite part of the role has a short stage life.
“The counting house scene is the only time when Scrooge is allowed to be a scrooge,” he says. “Then, you start your transition.”
For Goodman, the fun of acting “is the make-believe, the ‘play,’ like playing cowboys and Indians when I was a kid,” he writes in an email. Creating a complex, transforming character like Scrooge is ‘play’ for the grown-up actor.
If you’ve felt cramped at a Twin Beach Players’ production, you’ll find the theatre group in a roomier performance space: St. John Vianney theater seats some 150. A minimalist set of select pieces of period furniture backdrops Calvert County’s only Christmas Carol.
The 10th anniversary of Twin Beach Players’ Christmas Carol runs December 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22 & 23, 8pm FSa; 2pm Su @ St. John Vianney Catholic Church Family Life Center, Prince Frederick. $15: www.twinbeachplayers.org.
Greg Coale’s Existential Scrooge
Scrooge has a deep reason for being a miser. He’s a realist.
When Greg Coale is not at his federal government computer job, he’s a master of characters.
‘I always wanted to be Scrooge,’ says Greg Coale, of Musical Artist Theatre with Douglas Hannah as Tiny Tim. ‘I’m generally grumpy, and I’m not necessarily a holiday person.’
He’s been a drug kingpin in Full Circle, bug-eating victim Renfield in Dracula, President Franklin Roosevelt in Annie, a crippled lawman and a modern-day Jack The Ripper in the film Dear Boss, among dozens of other roles. A devoted Harry Potter fan, Coale transformed himself into Professor Severus Snipe in an hour-long skit for customers waiting for the unveiling of the seventh Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at Bowie’s Barnes and Noble.
Now, as Scrooge in Musical Artist Theatre’s A Christmas Carol, Coale is yet again divining the personality, the roots and motives of a complex, mysterious character.
“I always wanted to be Scrooge,” says Coale, who says he has a little in common with the miser. “I’m generally grumpy, and I’m not necessarily a holiday person.”
It’s his third year running as Scrooge with the troupe, after playing other characters for seven or eight years, including Mr. Fezziwig, Marley and old Joe. He’s even played all three in one show.
Scrooge is appealing for actors to play because “every actor wants to be on stage the whole time,” Coale says. When he auditioned, director Michael Hulett saw Scroogy potential.
“It’s a difficult role to do, it’s like Hamlet. People are so familiar with it, they can quote lines,” says Hulett, who also writes music and lyrics for this Christmas Carol’s songs. “Greg portrays the gruff miserliness; but there’s also a childlike quality and an impish quality. He can be mean and charming at the same time.”
In transforming himself into Scrooge, Coale a medium-height actor with a short silver beard hopes to get to the essence of why Scrooge is a scrooge.
“From what I’ve watched in movies, other actors play him as a caricature,” Coale says. “Not with a lot of depth.”
For Musical Artist Theatre’s version, Coale hopes to delve deeper into the mind of Ebenezer.
“I tried to make him more real, more human, but at the same time, a miser,” he says. “Scrooge has a deep reason for being a miser. His reason, Coale says, comes from his past. Scrooge is bitter that his beloved sister Fan died giving birth to Fred. He still carries that resentment, fueled by Fred’s likeness to Fan.
“In that sense he’s being a realist, not intentionally mean,” Coale continues. So when Scrooge demands What right have you to be merry?, says Coale, there’s history in his words.
Speaking Hulett’s true-to-the-original script, Coale believes he has captured Dickens’ intent.
In this dramatization, Coale also gets to sing, which is what drew him to theater. “I’ve always been a singer, since age five,” he says. “But I wasn’t even in high school plays.” He found his avocation in college with Inherit the Wind.” Even with a full-time day job since 1983, Coale plays the role of a computer systems analyst for the Social Security Administration he spends his free time acting.
From the stage, he has expanded to film, television acting and voice-overs, including a pirate voice-over in Sid Meier’s Pirates!, a popular video game. He also plays a comedic FBI agent in the science fiction TV pilot Signals. Plus he’s rehearsing his role as juror number nine in Ten Angry Jurors, which he’s performing with the Laurel Mill Players.
In The Christmas Carol, he’s playing two Scrooges: young and old.
“Usually, the way it’s done is you have an actor play Scrooge as an old man, and then have a younger actor play Scrooge when he’s younger,” Hulett says. In this version, Coale plays both the old man and the younger Scrooge in the flashback scenes.
Body language is Coale’s trick to making the age jump from the gruff, miserly Scrooge to the hopeful, youthful Scrooge.
If you have a certain body stance, he says, the emotion will come. “Stand like an old person, and you will think like an old person. Old Scrooge is hunched and very stiff, and young teenage Scrooge is straight and having fun.”
Getting those emotions and demeanor to follow body language takes practice, says Coale.
“I don’t really get into character,” before a show, Coale says. “You’ve done your homework and walk out on stage, and you just do it. I’m myself until that light hits my face.”
Still, his acting isn’t all acting.
“In a sense, it’s my emotions I’ve felt fear, rejection, hurt; I’ve felt disgusted,” Coale says. Thinking about how Scrooge felt about his past losing his sister helps ignite Coale’s sensory memory, bringing those emotions back onstage. “I am me trying to live through the eyes and mind and senses of that character.”
Coale’s favorite part of playing Scrooge comes at the end, “when he changes, when he has that epiphany and reawakening, because of the audience reaction,” he says. “It’s fun and energetic; when you’ve been playing a closed-in character, that’s fun to do.”
In becoming Scrooge, Coale also hopes to relay Dickens’ 125-year-old message.
“If the audience is all caught up in hum-drum of Christmas and there’s a lot of stress lines and the shopping and the stress of dinner and entertaining, traveling,” he says. “If they relate to Scrooge in some way, at the end they realize that people are more important and to not let relationships go.”
See Musical Artist Theatre’s A Christmas Carol December 7 thru 16, FSa 7:30pm; Su 2:30pm @ Studio Theatre (drive around back of Chesapeake Arts Center), 194 Hammonds Lane, Brooklyn Park. $15 w/discounts: 410-636-6597.
Chuck Dick’s Grouchy Scrooge
I don’t need to act cranky all that much offstage; I can turn it on when I need to.
Chuck Dick loves the story of Scrooge so much that he not only plays Ebenezer but also directs the Pasadena Theatre Company’s production.
“I have done it before, so it’s not a new thing,” Dick says. It’s not so hard a thing, he says, because “Christmas Carol isn’t one of the longest shows on stage.”
“I don’t add a lot of extra fluff,” says Dick, a drama teacher retired from Annapolis High School. A theater graduate of Catholic University, Dick also taught theater at Essex Community College and studied with the Royal Shakespeare Company of London.
Playing Scrooge and seeing Christmas shows, ‘really gets Christmas started for me. It’s refreshing and helps prepare me for the whole season,’ says Chuck Dick, with Pasadena Theatre Company.
This teacher and student of theatrics has done his homework for the role of Scrooge, which he’s played four times for Pasadena Theatre Company. His other Scrooge performances have lighted the stages of Annapolis Dinner Theatre (later Chesapeake Music Hall) and Burnbrae Dinner Theater totaling, he guesses, some 100 performances.
“When you’ve been rehearsing for weeks and months, during that time you’ve been developing your character, working on that character’s thoughts movements and subtext what underlines the thoughts,” says Dick, the Pasadena troupe’s artistic director. All it takes for him to get Scroogy is a quick warm-up, when he moves like his character and thinks about Scrooge’s motivation.
“I don’t need to act cranky all that much” offstage, he says. “I can turn it on when I need to.
Dick is a deep-voiced, affable, robust man with a short, dark-grayish beard. His character is a burly, gruff sometimes bellowing Scrooge who grumbles and snaps at Cratchit.
“At first people are going to say Scrooge is a mean old, nasty kind of guy,” Dick says. “And he is. He’s not the kind of guy you’d want to work for. You feel sorry for Bob Cratchit.”
Because audiences have seen a lot of Scrooges, Dick says his challenge is to make you think that he is as good a Scrooge ideally, better as any other.
“Scrooge is a highly identifiable character. He’s an icon for Christmas in some ways: the mean, old man who changes and comes out with a heart of gold,” Dick says. “So playing those types of characters is fun, trying to make the character work.”
Scrooge is now part of Dick’s Yuletide tradition.
Playing Scrooge in Dickens’ ghost story, as he calls it, and seeing Christmas shows, he says, “really gets Christmas started for me. It’s refreshing and helps prepare me for the whole season.”
He hopes that A Christmas Carol will do the same for audiences. But more than get us in the Christmas spirit, the Dickens’ story can reach each of us on a personal level.
“With great characters in drama or literature, all of us can see ourselves at moments,” he says. “All of us can relate to things that happen. In a love story, you remember being in love, or you remember your heart being broken.”
He hopes his Christmas Carol teaches audiences that stinginess and self-centeredness don’t make for happiness.
“I realize more and more that my family, my relationships with others, are much more important than financial success and accumulating things,” says this Scrooge.
Pasadena Theatre Company has finished its weekend-long run of A Christmas Carol at Anne Arundel Community College, but you can catch Scrooge in two upcoming dates and locations.
• December 7, 8, & 9, hosted by Catonsville Dinner Theatre, Pasadena Theatre Company presents the production after you dine FSa 6:30pm; Su 1:30pm @ West Baltimore United Methodist Church, I-495 exit 14 to Edmonson Ave., corner of Greenwich and Charring Cross rds., Catonsville. $25 includes buffet: 410-948-4370.
• December 15 to benefit Unity By the Bay Church at 7:30pm @ 836 Rt. 2 (turn at the sign for Severna Park Business Center and follow the road straight back for 1⁄8 mile) Suite 18, Severna Park. $12: 410-544-7990.