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A Christmas Carol Opening

With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror, Maryland theaters are turning their eyes to holiday productions. At the Annapolis Shakespeare Company, that’s an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

On a recent Saturday morning, the cast and crew of the Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s version of A Christmas Carol ran through scenes to get it right. They wore masks and street clothes as they rehearsed on the beautiful Victorian set.

Donald Hicken, one of the adaptors, says, this version sticks close to the original story.

“I think Dickens had a very specific idea of what he wanted to say Christmas should be,” Hicken said. “And used this kind of wonderful ghost story to deliver that message.”

But this year’s production will have some significant changes for safety reasons. The audience will be capped at 50% and must wear masks. The cast wears masks and goes through temperature checks before rehearsals. Director and co-adaptor Sally Boyett said they’re on an honor system to protect each other.

“We’ve also entered into a bit of a social contract with each other that we’re going to avoid crowds outside the theatre and make this theatrical home our bubble,” she said.

The masks, however, make directing actors a little more difficult.

“You’re trying to see through that mask and see what’s happening,” Boyett said laughing. “And all you can really see are eyes, and when people are happy their eyes squint and when people are angry their eyes squint, you know?”

This show opened in 2017. That year, a musical version of  A Christmas Carol that for more than 30 years had been a holiday tradition at Colonial Players, a downtown Annapolis community theater, was on hiatus. That production, which had been mounted in even numbered years since 2008, has been cancelled this year because of the pandemic, leaving the ASC show the only game in town.

Boyett says the aesthetics of the two shows are "completely different."

John Pruessner, who plays the ghost of Jacob Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge’s former business partner, said he’s been pleasantly surprised at how people have reacted to this production.

“I can’t believe how enthusiastic the crowds were last year,” Pruessner said. “This year we’ll have to wait and see. COVID’s put a dent in everybody’s activity.”

In the meantime, Pruessner said he’s enjoying digging into a character who speaks to Scrooge from beyond the grave.

“To put your mind in the place where Marley has been,” Pruessner said,  “where he can come and look at his life and all the mistakes he made and he can come back, it’s a fun journey.”

Dexter Hamlett, who plays Scrooge, said the season’s not all festive to him.

“I’m a bit of a Scrooge, a bit of a Grinch at Christmas time, about the retail,” Hamlett said. “And I do remember as a young adult that it was kind of a lonely time.”

Still, he said he sees A Christmas Carol as a story about discovering the joy of the holidays. He also thinks audiences need art more than ever this year.

“I really believe that we’re gonna hook deeper into people,” Hamlett said. “Because I think they’re thirsty for the theatre.”

A Christmas Carol opens November 27 and runs weekends through Dec. 27 at the Annapolis Shakespeare Company, 1804 West Street in Annapolis.