BRATTLEBORO—For Jessica Gelter, staging a performance of “A Christmas Carol” with her husband, James ”Jay” Gelter, represents “the classic problem of it being a well-known, often-performed parable.”
The play, based on a novella by Charles Dickens first published in 1843, has been adapted and performed for stage and screen countless times — including for the past three years by Vermont Theatre Company.
The classic problem: how to keep a beloved classic storyline fresh and relevant without the characters devolving into stereotypes and cliches.
For the Gelters, addressing that challenge has involved multiple techniques: trading off directorial duties, two rewrites of James’s original adaptation, deep collaboration with each other and their respective casts, and hard looks at various characterizations and developments.
It’s also involved some fun.
“It shows the sass and bite of Dickens,” Jessica said.
In a dress rehearsal last weekend, Bruce Holloway released a range of emotion — from bombast to self-aware chagrin — as Ebenezer Scrooge.
The chorus, in Victorian garb, alternately standing to the side of the action on stage and participating in it, sang 20 works, from traditional carols to drinking songs. Narrator Jay Gelter follows Scrooge’s actions through the play and uses puppets to take on the identities of the three famous Christmas ghosts in the retelling of the classic tale.
Jessica Gelter said that when rereading the original novella this year, she realized that “Scrooge changes pretty quickly and is open to change.”
Thus, this year, the play explores “increments,” she said: “what vices he hangs onto and what he sheds by the end.”
She also said that recent current events on the national stage have struck a chord.
Although not religious, she said she has also addressed the message of Jesus Christ in the play, “in a way to highlight sacrifice, compassion, and charity.”
Holloway, who relishes the “meaty role,” agrees that the play “in many ways mirrors the shift that’s going on today” in the U.S. political milieu.
His Scrooge, he said, is not a codger, but rather a “good, thinking businessman” who is confronting challenges to his worldview.
The cast — nine actors and six chorus members — and crew have been rehearsing through the fall months and will take the play to the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center.
“They’ve never had a full-on production in the museum before,” said Jessica, who worked with the Downtown Business Alliance to find a suitable space in downtown Brattleboro to perform the work.
“This show has been really meaningful to put together this year, and I get to get back to playwriting, which I haven’t really gotten to do in a while,” she said. “I love how folks in Brattleboro are willing to take risks and try new ideas and support artists doing just that.”