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A Christmas Carol Play
Based on the novel by Charles Dickens and adapted with additional dialogue by Steven Young.
We meet Dickens amid the creation of his legendary novel. As A Christmas Carol is penned, Charles Dickens is nearly bankrupt. Three serials in a row fail to sell including his most recent Martin Chuzzlewit. The American tour is a financial flop and his novels are being plagiarized. Without paying out of pocket for the book’s production, his current publisher will not back A Christmas Carol. In danger of losing his home and his wife—currently pregnant with their fifth child—we meet the author, his family and witness the strain associated with the holiday season and an empty pocket.
Dickens has a conversion similar to Scrooge: Desperate to finish the novel in time to hit the Christmas market, the author demands his family absent themselves and then drives them from his attic writing chamber. Interspersed through the adaptation we see Dickens and Katherine spar until by the end of the tale, Dickens experiences a similar conversion as Scrooge and begs his family’s forgiveness.
Theatrically viable: By retaining portions of the narrative, the focus goes to the author when any major costume or scenic changes are to be executed. This allows a continuous, almost cinematic flow to the action, unencumbered by long blackouts or awkward scene changes. The adaptation also pinpoints theatrical shifts as a guide to uninterrupted storytelling and allows for period and seasonal music to be chosen and developed by the ensemble. Dickens has the final line quoting Tiny Tim and producing a bit of Christmas magic, capturing the original intention of why the author conceived this tale.
Having lived in England for a decade as well as directing and appearing in multiple productions of A Christmas Carol, Steven Young brings this experience to bear in this version of the story.
From the Play
DICKENS: I wish! (Beat.) There isn’t a ghost of a chance of making the 19 December deadline. (Pours a drink and toasts.) To the death of the dead-line…dead, dead—wait a tick. (He writes.) Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. Old Marley was as dead as a doornail. Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know what there is particularly dead about a doornail. I might have been inclined to regard a coffin nail as the deadest piece of iron in the trade, but back to the point I started from. There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate; therefore, permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a doornail! Door, door, door, doornail—doorbell—door-mouse—door—what!
(ALL the CHILDREN rush in. MARY carries her doll followed by a very pregnant CATHERINE.)
CHILDREN (ALL): Papa! Papa! Papa!
DICKENS: Catherine, the children—please!
CATHERINE: Mr. Dickens, find a little patience in your heart, they’re here to remind themselves what their father looks like. They miss him. You miss your father, don’t you children?
CHILDREN (ALL): We miss you, papa.
DICKENS: I know what you’re doing; Catherine, using the children to woo me from my work will not win the day.
CATHERINE: Are you joining us for supper?
DICKENS: Not hungry.
BOZ: Papa, we want you to sing carols with us.
MARY: My doll hurt its nose. Will you kiss it?
DICKENS: The doll is fine, Mary. Have mother kiss it.
KATE: Read us a story?
DICKENS: I’m busy Kate.
BOZ: You know what I want?
KATE: Wait your turn, Boz.
MARY: I want my doll’s nubbly nose all better.
DICKENS: Walter, what are you doing?
BOZ: He’s being a duck.
DICKENS: It’s embarrassing; I’m a novelist and one of my own children refuses to speak the Queen’s English. Walter, you cannot go through life relying on poultry as a means of communication.
WALTER: Quack, quack, quack, quack, quack!
BOZ: I can be a cow, look, moo.
(ALL the CHILDREN begin mooing.)
DICKENS: No livestock is permitted in these quarters.
CATHERINE: Charles, you’ve been at the page for three days. Locked away in the attic, you’ve neglected to eat, to sleep, or to be with your family. Something is wrong.
DICKENS: Wrong? That’s an understatement; I have a child so perilously steeped in ignorance he can’t speak and of those who can, I hear nothing but ‘want.’ Worse yet, you’re belly is full with another child and we’re drowning in debt.
CATHERINE: I believe you had a hand in my current situation.
DICKENS: We barely maintain house here in lovely Osnaburgh Terrace, I write in an attic and have never been less inspired than at this moment.
CATHERINE: Children, come with me. (SHE ushers them aside.) Your father is behaving like a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner.
DICKENS: Uh…Let me write that down.
CATHERINE: What has come over you, Charles?
(DICKENS wads up a piece of paper as the CHILDREN march about.)
DICKENS: Nothing! That’s the problem. Nothing has come over me. I can’t write. I can’t think. I have a dead line I’m sure to miss. Nails, I’m stuck on—doornails. Stop that racket!
(The CHILDREN cling to their mother.)
CATHERINE: Charles, its nearly Christmas—
DICKENS: If I don’t finish the manuscript there won’t be a Christmas nor a house to have it in.