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By Brian Robin

Embracing the ‘Role of the Century ‘—Ebenezer Scrooge

Richard Doyle has played pretentious characters (Mr. Gaines on “Cheers”). He’s played poignant characters (Robert in SCR’s 2003 production of Proof). He’s played powerful characters (Sen. John McDowell in SCR’s 2018 production of Kings). And he’s played the prideful and transformative (the Reverend John Hale in SCR’s 1988 production of The Crucible).

But even with that acting range, Doyle saves a special place in his heart for Ebenezer Scrooge.

“It’s the role of the century for me and I’ve played many, many roles,” he said.

Doyle once again dons the top hat of Charles Dickens’ eternal curmudgeon in A Christmas Carol, which runs through Dec. 24 on the Segerstrom Stage. This is Doyle’s third season playing Scrooge, SCR’s 43rd production of the holiday classic and he is having the time of his life

“I have fun on that stage. I love being on this stage,” he said. “I like playing characters and telling stories on stage. I’m a storyteller and you give me a good story to tell and I’m all-in. … I enjoy telling stories on stage because I’m taking the audience on a journey. They’re sitting in the audience, becoming engaged in a process that I’ve been engaged in for 60 years of my life. I’m trying to engage that audience to come in and be a part of this process. …

“Everyone, no matter what they came in with, is having the same experience with this process. What’s not to like about it? Whether you’re on stage telling the story or in the audience hearing the story, you’re going to have a good time.”

Doyle digs deep into Scrooge’s psyche, using Freudian psychology to understand Scrooge’s personality traits and why he is the way he is. Doyle explores Scrooge’s relationships with the other characters, building that knowledge into how he can best display the essence of those relationships to the audience.

“The one good relationship he had was with Fan, who was a kind, generous person. Kind is a buzzword in our production and a buzzword in Dickens’ play,” he said. “Kindness and generosity. Those are attributes Scrooge has all but eliminated in his life. He felt he was denied those things. Not until the Spirit of Christmas Past shows up does he get reminded that as a young man growing up, he experienced quite a bit of kindness and generosity from people. He focused on bad things. …

“We didn’t have the benefit of Freudian psychology at this period of time, so Dickens made a lot of direct parallels to behavioral psychology that he had no evidence of. But they were things that he connected, said and did.”

Doyle uses all that to take the audience on Scrooge’s journey in a way that not only entertains, but informs. And when he takes audiences on that journey of redemption and discovery, he notices something that tells him he’s on the right path.

“I can’t tell you the number of people who have told me they’re sitting there with their eyes flickering and someone next to them starts to tear up—and then they start to cry,” he said. “They get caught up in the fact this is a journey. They go through a journey.

Above all, Doyle loves the journey this character takes him through. Being on the SCR stage, playing Ebenezer Scrooge in his many facets is a gift to a man who has stepped into countless roles over six decades—and yet, fell in love with the character from the first play he ever saw. Doyle has told the story numerous times that A Christmas Carol was his introduction to theatre—with his late older brother, Robert, playing Scrooge.

The saying, “You always remember your first,” is one Doyle truly understands. And cherishes. 

About the author

South Coast Repertory

South Coast Repertory is a Tony Award-winning theatre is known for producing classics, contemporary hits and world premieres, for having the largest new-play development program in the nation and for advancing the art of theatre in service to the community. 

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