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Tuesday, March 26 , 2019, 12:05 am | Fair 52º


Gerald Carpenter: After Five Years, Lit Moon Theatre Says ‘Humbug!’ Again

Humbug!, the Lit Moon Theatre Company’s wildly popular arrangement of Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol, roars back onto the Porter Theater’s stage after a five-year absence.

The production, directed by Lit Moon’s resident magus, John Blondell, with music by James Connolly, puppetry by Jaco Connolly, costumes by Olivia Warner and lighting by Jonathan Hicks (Westmont ‘04), will star Victoria Finlayson, Stanley Hoffman, Marie Ponce (‘10), Nina Sallinen, Paige Tautz (‘14) and Lauren White (‘14).

“Where many productions of A Christmas Carol focus on spectacle, lavish costumes and large cast scenes,” John Blondell said, “our version evokes the story out of seemingly nothing, with a few props, some lovingly made props and puppets, and a handful of actors who play many memorable characters. Humbug! is one of my favorite Lit Moon shows. Every word is Dickens'. Rather than dramatize his material and turn it into a play, we have worked very hard to theatricalize his novel, and to use storytelling, music, acting and puppets to bring his story to vivid, heartwarming life.”

As director Blondell knows well, with Dickens, as with William Shakespeare, the words do everything — all you have to do is pronounce them correctly.

“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dogdays; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.”

There are curious parallels between the two novelists, Dickens and Henry James. Their novels aren’t alike, of course, but both had ambitions to hear their words spoken on stage. Both wrote plays which made no mark whatsoever. Dickens even operated a theater for a while, with his friend, Wilkie Collins, and managed to produce some of his plays (the theater enjoyed a measure of success, the plays did not).

Where Dickens had the edge over James, in the matter of live performance of his works, was that he was a shameless and charismatic show-off. He made one fortune off his books, and another off his reading tours. He was brilliant at speaking his own words aloud — as was Mark Twain, who recouped many a bad investment with speaking tours. James, who cloaked his extreme shyness with an aloof, pompous manner, that would never have worked on an audience, was completely at the mercy of what Hugh Kenner called “other voices.” (His brother William, on the other hand, was a famous lecturer, and held the learned faculty of Edinburgh University spellbound with his talks on The Variety of Religious Experience.) If James and Dickens were still alive, remember, they would be able to live very comfortably on the royalties from the filmed versions of their novels.

Dickens was great on harangues, exposition, monologues, and soliloquies, but dialogue was another thing. His characters seldom have conversations that move the story along. A rare instance of dialogue working as it should occurs when Marley’s ghost visits Scrooge in his glacial abode. Marley has come to warn Scrooge about the trials he will soon experience, and he knows his old partner well enough to get him asking questions. Finally, he gets Scrooge to bring the conversation to the point:

“‘But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,’ faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself."

“‘Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. ‘Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’”

A Christmas Carol is not an anti-capitalist screed. Dickens knew no more about business than he did about politics, and that was nothing at all. What he knew about was the human heart, and the story is about the education of Scrooge’s heart.

Humbug! A (LitMoon) Christmas Carol plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 18-20, in Porter Theater on the campus of Westmont College, 955 La Paz Road. If you have never been to Westmont before, you had better start early: Even with GPS, you could find yourself wandering around Montecito like Josef K. trying to reach Kafka’s Castle.

Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for students and seniors — with the bonus that you can get one child (age 6 to 12) in for free with every adult ticket purchased (additional children’s tickets $8). To purchase tickets, call 805.565.7140 or go online by clicking here.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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