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Minimalist 'A Christmas Carol' involves 'low costs, vivid imagination'


Tony Reich of the Patuxent Theatre Company describes his adaptation of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" through a trio of disparate plays.

"It's sort of like 'Nicholas Nickleby' meets 'The Fantasticks' meets 'Raisin,' " he said.

It's part "Nicholas Nickleby" because every word is drawn from Dickens, part "Fantasticks" because the set is minimalist, Mr. Reich said.

"Bed, table, two chairs, two doors, four wooden boxes and that's it."

And "Raisin"?

Because it's mimed and all props, such as the dinner plates, the goose and glasses, are pantomimed.

"Low production costs and vivid imagination," he said.

Mr. Reich's adaptation will begin a two-weekend schedule today at the 64-seat Drama Learning Center.

For Mr. Reich, associate producer and artistic director, this is the sixth time his adaptation has been produced.

It opened at Petrucci's Dinner Theatre in Laurel, which closed in 1991.

For this production, he also will direct and play Scrooge.

"What's really neat is to hear people say, 'That is "A Christmas Carol," ' " he said.

He told of a woman who would read the book but would not see any production or adaptation until she was cajoled into seeing his version.

"Her routine was at 10:05 p.m. Christmas Eve, she would sit LTC down with 'A Christmas Carol,' and had it that she would finish it by midnight Christmas Day. She doesn't watch movies. She said our production was perfect," he said.

"It is a minimalist production. We try to engage the individual's image of the story. She saw on stage a lot of the stuff she saw in her mind when she read the book. It's also a literal adaptation of the book."

Patuxent Theatre's production will have a cast of 11 actors playing about 60 roles.

Part of the audience will have an opportunity to act in three scenes.

Dec. 19, the day of the last Patuxent Theatre performances, will be historically significant, since it is the 150th anniversary of a publication of "A Christmas Carol," a generally somber story set during a festive period.

"There's humor there, but basically it's a man who's removed himself from the human condition. It's the story of a miserable man," he said.

"It's a story of a reclaimed life. He decides at the end to make a change."

After 150 years of being adapted to the stage, cinema, cartoons and sitcoms, the reason for its longevity may lie in the questions it raises about Christmas.

Mr. Reich believes the key to its longevity centers on Scrooge, who was happy "to edge his way along the crowded path of life."

"Why people come back to it is that it's a familiar story. They know the outcome," he said.

"They watch this man take a personal inventory. It is a reflection time for everyone. 'Where am I? Am I getting to the edge? Do I need to get to the center?' "

Patuxent Theatre producer Gary Goodson describes the play's cast as made up of "professional and avocational" actors ranging in age from teen-agers to "mature years."

"Most of the people aren't paid. But most people involved do theater for a living and were Equity or Equity-eligible," Mr. Reich said.

"We do most plays the average actors will not have a chance to do unless they're [members of Actors Equity, the national actors union]," Mr. Reich said.

It's probably fitting that a Howard County theater would be based in an office building.

That is the case with the Patuxent Theatre Company, which performs at the Drama Learning Center, a suite in the Center 32 office building on Guilford Road, east of U.S. 1.

Since it opened, the theater has added a new light and sound system and a coat of paint.

Those familiar with the Columbia Cinema for some time may notice the similarity between the seats at the theater and the old seats at the Lakefront cinema.

Mr. Reich said people sometimes call in frustration because they cannot see a theater from the road.

He tells them, "Well, it's in the red brick office building."

The Patuxent Theatre Company will present Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," adapted by Tony Reich, today through Sunday and Dec. 17-19 at 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays, at the Drama Learning Center, 10620 Guilford Road, Suite 206, Jessup. Tickets are $6 for adults, $5 for students and seniors and $4 for children. Information: (301) 604-4776.

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