In just about 60 minutes at the Turnage Theater, Friday night, December 3, 2010, we got a glimpse of who Charles Dickens was, and what possessed him to create his Christmas opus, "A Christmas Carol." I sat transfixed in my seat in the balcony of the renovated former theater, mesmerized by the palpable presentation of the one act, one man play "A Night Before Christmas Carol."
"A Night Before Christmas Carol" is the brainchild of Elliot Engel, Charles Dickens scholar, who is published extensively on the subject, and this Friday night, through the actor's guise of David Zum Brunnen, we got a certain taste of who the writer was, who he is in message. And with Charles Dickens, it was always about the message.
This was the night that we got a triple dose of it all: A history / social perspective of England in the early days of the Industrial Age, a personal perspective of the pathos, and alternating joy of the author, and to manifest it all through the living narrative of "A Christmas Carol."
The actor, David Zum Brunnen, took the direction well of his wife and collaborator, Serena Ebhardt, and manically displayed the ego, laid bare, of the well-remembered author, who, in life, used his well-read-words to effect some measure of change in the grimy, coal dust times of his 19th Century England. "A Christmas Carol" was as much a statement of the social ills of the time in 1843 London, as it was a call to life, love and redemption. In the embodiment of Ebenezer Scrooge, we glimpsed the detached cruelty of London's established wealthy class, rendered in the caricature of the Scrooge character, and how they might redeem themselves of such an evil burden.
Ebenezer did redeem himself - "Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more" - and he was the prototypical redeemed soul that is the basis of most uplifting stories. It is the better theme that keeps our hopes of a better world here at Christmas time, as we head into a new year that we always hope will be better than the last. In a time, as it is now, with so many out of work, losing their homes, and experiencing the tough change of a bad economy and bad policy, the story of the transformation of the miser-turned- philanthropist in the span of a night is the most uplifting of all.
That was the purpose of this treatise of the transformational optimism from the despair of the spirit that transcended the desperate human condition of that daunting age. David Zum Brunnen's frenzied approach to Charles Dickens character in the throes of his creative spirit, symbolized the authors' need to break the bonds of the oppressive pessimism of the witnessed poor that dominated many of his long walks along the narrow, cobbled streets throughout London. As stated by the actor's character, "I will write a Christmas story to be bound and published modestly so that the poor families of London can have one book in their home that will bring them a measure of Christmas cheer."
The beauty within this short one act play was its ability to convey the political soul of the author, his aspiration for sweeping societal transformation, while entertaining his audience with segments taken directly from the pages of "A Christmas Carol," and fleshed out by the actor as he interpreted how Dickens would have portrayed them. "A Christmas Carol," which is the best story of Christmas this side of the Apostle Luke's depiction of the birth of the Christ Child, was as much of an examination of the conflict that exists in Men's souls as it expression of the Miracle of Christmas. But isn't that it's all about ... anyway?
As in all the pictures displayed within this article, the demonstrative actor, David Zum Brunnen, works his Charles Dickens into a near manic state as he hastily occupies separate marks on the stage to produce the story of an author, who had a big story to tell.