“A Territorial Christmas Carol” Live-Streamed from The Pollard Actors with Nostalgic Tenderness
“A Territorial Christmas Carol” has long been a wonderful tradition for Oklahoma audiences and this show can only be found in one place: The Pollard Theatre in Guthrie, Oklahoma. Many theatres have come up with adaptations of Dicken’s classic “A Christmas Carol” but the Pollard version is unique. Author Stephen Scott’s adaptation moves Dicken’s original location from the economically depressed London, to the struggling but developing Oklahoma Territory not very long after the land run of 1889. The play opens with the Moody Family preparing for a sparse Christmas in the country with few neighbors and a much wider prairie compared to their previous home. Longing for the shared intimacy of family, friends and neighbors.
Visitors do come though, and with them is a traveler stranded in the Territory as he waits for the train to take him on the remainder of his journey. Mrs. Moody is excited to invite Charlie, as he introduces himself, to share in the meager revelries at the Moody household. He contributes a special gift, reading aloud a story by Charles Dickens. There are three spirits that visit Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” but in “A Territorial Christmas Carol” there is one extra, the very spirit of Charles Dickens!
Scott’s adaptation has always been a beloved experience and just a few years ago, Scott attended the annual performance. He enjoyed seeing, once again, a special college chum, the man who played Scrooge for so many years, James Ong. It is sad to note that both these major talents passed away shortly after that production.
This year, it returns, and honors both. James A. Hughes is Scrooge, marvelously, so. His interpretation is a little different from Ong’s, but it is one that Ong and Scott would have both loved. The 2020 production is a little restricted because of Covid-19 and rather than have the large cast meet and perform the play to be live streamed for the audience, the cast only gathered through the wonders of the world wide web. This “A Territorial Christmas Carol” production is more like a radio play than a full performance as we are only able to hear the actors who are connected through the wireless soundwaves that have enabled this pandemic to be a little more tolerable than it would have been in the time of Dickens!
In addition to Hughes performance, David Fletcher-Hall stands out as ‘Charlie’ and his interpretation is perfect for the role. It is exciting to anticipate the number of familiar faces that the Pollard has brought in for the show, but the outcome is a little disappointing. Very few of the characters actually played the same roles familiar to the audience and without visual cues it is hard to tell who was speaking. The cast list is very large for this production, much larger than the recent casts, creating a more confusion. Nevertheless, the production is a beautiful nostalgic experience with excellent individual performances. From the entire cast and those who cried and laughed over the years attending the annual production are entertained and delighted.
Unfortunately, as a play, it doesn’t stand alone. While it is done much as a radio play usually is, the version used has not been adapted for radio. Anyone not familiar with the show is left adrift with limited understanding. Interviewing those who logged in to see “A Territorial Christmas Carol” it becomes clear that unfamiliar audience members are confused and a little dismayed. For those who are familiar with the show, the show was understandable, but not comfortably clear.
The impressions of Scott Myers, Contributing Editor of Oklahoma Art Scene and Hurd follow:
I had the pleasure last week of seeing or hearing or experiencing the Territorial Experience of A Christmas Carol Virtual edition 2020, produced by The Pollard Theatre Ensemble. I mentioned all three of those sensory ideas because I was granted the enjoyment of all three of them at the performance although it was via the screen! (which I’ll talk about that later). There are some stories that we know automatically and the story of Ebenezer Scrooge at
Christmas time is one of those tales. Just before Oklahoma statehood The Story begins with the
Moody family Elizabeth, Ben and young son William all very well played by Megan Montgomery Dakota Muckelrath and young Jackson Daigle, respectively, watch out for him in the coming years. In those days right or before statehood strangers were more welcome into somebody’s home to come in out of the storm then they would be today.The fictional character Hamilton Moore is competently brought to life with a bit of an English accent by Ben Bates who introduces the story of Scrooge and the night that he was visited by the various Spirits, past and future (you know the routine).
James A Hughes takes on the roll of Scrooge with a variety of colors that is necessary for a totally aural presence. I could really see his “bah, humbugs” even though we couldn’t actually see him. Mariah Warren as Sprit 1 and Stephen Hilton as Sprit 2 turned in credible performances when it came to dealing with Scrooge. As a production, I was confused by the television which flashed some pictures in the early stages of the show but then did nothing once the story began. I would be remiss if I didn’t question the whole tv set’s function and distraction. The vocal performances of the cast in telling the Scrooge story left this reviewer satisfied in hearing a familiar tale well told. I hope that this talented group takes a closer look at their use of the tv for a radio show at the time of statehood.
Fletcher-Hall’s presentation and accent is, as usual, lovely, and the Moody’s start out with a bit of a Kansas drawl but overall, the accents within the play do not give us many reminders of the place and period. The visual cues not being there, and auditory cues were not written in enough to compensate for the visual lack. Trying to place the characters is distracting to the story.
The connection between audience and cast is absent, and without a physical connection among the actors the empathy and bond between the characters is also lacking. Nevertheless, all of the actors do an excellent job of reading the material—Jared Blount as Bob Cratchit, Megan Montgomery as Elizabeth Moody, Lance Reese as Marley, Al Bostick as Mr. Fezziwig stand out. Stephen Hilton, Brenda Williams, Joshua McGowen, Kris Schinske Wolfe, Timothy Stewart, Stefani Fortney and Marian Warren are among the many talented participants bringing the nostalgic experience to fruition.
One must congratulate all those in live theatre who do everything they can to survive this pandemic lockdown with integrity and commitment to bringing back that beautiful connection that only occurs in theatre. “A Territorial Christmas can be seen through December 31, 2020 by visiting the Pollard Theatre website at www.thepollard.org. Sign up to receive the online stream of “A Territorial Christmas Carol” and be prepared to delight in these wonderful memories.