Demetra M. Pappas, JD, MSc, PhD, Crimcast correspondent
In a time of economic inequality, the plight of the Cratchit family seems particularly poignant in New York City.
For some, the holiday season is about parties; for others, it is about the seasonal performances. Given that I would not have made a clever criminal, I will admit to having been known to enjoy both. That said, this particular year, I have been performance focused, since my new knee, only two months old after total knee replacement, has not been deemed suitable for partying. (Actually, I quipped to a friend that my knee was probably suited to such occasions, but I had the sort of concern about brushes with others walking while drinking that I usually reserve to New Year's Eve drivers-- no judgment, just a healthy fear of testing the fall-abilities of the “knew knee,” I say self-deprecatingly.)
A unique opportunity presents at the Merchant’s House Museum, 29 East Fourth Street (between Bowery and Lafayette), 212-777-1089, in association with Summoners Ensemble Theatre. John Kevin Jones offers a tour de force one man performance of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The Director’s Note, by Dr. Rhonda Dodd, explains that Jones was in the midst of developing a five actor version of the Dickens work during 2011, when he decided to try this version, motivated by Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots (about which I have previously written about for Crimcast). So it was that Jones took what Dickens did in 1843 and sought to create an abbreviated version of the play that would match Dickens’ comment on social and economic inequality.
Jones succeeds in this effort tremendously. First, he physically inhabits each character as he represents them, going from full ghostly wingspan to (pun admittedly intended) tiny Tiny Tim. He voices Scrooge’s trembling fear, joyous rediscovery of life, and likewise gives full voice and physicality to Dickens’ female characters, as well.
Second, the play itself is designed for one hour, with 15-minute segments that a lawyer dealing with billable hours would appreciate (roughly Spirit One/Christmas Past, Spirit Two/Christmas Present, Spirit Three/Christmas Future, with background and conclusion getting equal shares of the remaining quarter). Several lawyers in the audience commented on this as I (also a lawyer) chimed in as to how remarkable it was.
Third, the selection of the Merchant’s House Museum as the location is quite simply inspired. All that the edifice needed (and now has) was a bit of holiday décor (PS on the ground floor, there is a case of vintage stockings and the like, not to be missed on the way in or out). It is a lovely museum and the front and back rooms provide a perfect setting opportunity (in which folding chairs, which Jones quips are “vintage golden chairs,” as he introduces the performance), are set among the furniture and space of hardware merchant Seabury Treadwell, who purchased the building in 1835, just one year after Dickens authored A Christmas Carol.
An additional – and terrific – feature is that Jones himself mingles and chats with audience members as they are leaving the museum. He told several of us that according to legend (and perhaps even fact), during the writing of the original version (and Jones adapted this version from Dickens’ original touring version, while reintroducing a scene from the original novella), Dickens would wander the streets of London weeping over piece as he planned and re-edited it. This humanizing authorial angst, combined with activism on behalf of the laboring poor, especially children (which he saw first hand, after his family lost its money and debtors prison resulted for his father, mother and youngest siblings), makes the plight of the Cratchit family even more accessible.
Jones has chiseled and set a jewel of a play at a jewel of a museum.
Crimcast correspondent Demetra Pappas was named the 2012 SGA Faculty Member of the Year at St. Francis College, for her work in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice. Her recent book, Historical Guides to Controversial Issues in America: The Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide Debate (Greenwood Press, 2012) is a 100-year study of US and UK doctors prosecuted for medical euthanasia/assisted suicide and role of media) and was recently nominated for the 2014 International Qualitative Inquiry Book Prize and was nominated and short listed for the British Society of Criminology 2013 Criminology Book Prize. In addition to her work on end-of-life issues, she writes about anti-stalking mechanisms, pedagogical methodology, visual sociology and pens work on travel (including what has become known as CSI Demetra travel pieces), theater and the arts, dining and culinary books, and historical/cultural sights.