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By Brian Robin

There’s No ‘Bah Humbug’ To Richard Doyle’s Scrooge (1)

Richard Doyle had a front-row seat to watch his friend Hal Landon Jr. play the role of Ebenezer Scrooge in SCR’s production of A Christmas Carol for four decades. He played alongside his friend in virtually every role available—the Spirit of Christmas Present, Mr. Fezziwig, the Solicitor, Fred and Joe the Cider Salesman, among others.

So once Doyle inherited the top hat and scarf and polished up his “Bah-Humbugs” last year, what was his first takeaway?

“In a general sense, it was a lot harder than it looked,” he said. “It’s kind of a juggernaut. … When I went into it, I didn’t know what the audience followed, what they were interested in knowing. Once you’ve played this role, you understand that the audience is interested in tracking Scrooge’s journey and you want to give them as many points along the way to track where you’re going and why you’re there.

“Doing so tends to engage you emotionally in portraying this character. … It takes a lot out of you, but you can’t help but put everything you have into going there. No actor who gets the opportunity to play this role can allow himself not to be fully engaged.”

Doyle, one of the most beloved actors in SCR’s 59-year history, once again engages himself and audiences as the irascible curmudgeon of Charles Dickens’ holiday masterpiece. Audiences and critics readily took to his inaugural performances as Scrooge, eagerly tracking his path from cranky miser to kindly benefactor and enjoying each step of the journey.

Aside from his 37 appearances in A Christmas Carol, he’s been in the cast for 131 of SCR’s 542 (and counting) productions. And he’s played characters in television and film, most notably Mr. Gaines, Woody Harrelson’s father-in-law on Cheers. But Doyle discovered last year that playing Scrooge comes with its own challenges.

“When you play Scrooge, when you play a single character, you have to create an arc in the story that is believable,” he said. “When you are the principal person in the story, you have to create an arc that makes the story work. … Part of my job last year was to step in and give the audiences the Christmas Carol they remembered seeing. I didn’t want to go running amok with my thoughts about Scrooge.”

In this, he and director Hisa Takakuwa understood they needed a year to, in Doyle’s words, “go out of our way to give the audience the evening they have come to appreciate.” With that initial year done, Doyle can invest deeper in his Scrooge. In the words of Paul Hodgins’ review in Voice of OC last year, “it’s very Doyle.”

And it will be more so this year. Doyle did a deeper dive into Scrooge’s life in Victorian England, retroactively applying Freudian psychology—which didn’t exist in 1840s London—to his character in an effort to find out exactly what made him tick. Doyle wondered if the well-to-do audiences in Victorian England and early Gilded Age America understood the meaning of the story Dickens was reading them.

“The job of an actor is, generally speaking, to support the truth of the other actors on stage,” Doyle said. “Don’t do things that take away from that. You tell the story. That’s what makes Hisa Takakuwa (the Conservatory & Educational Programs Director and Director of A Christmas Carol) such a great director of this work. She really abides by this. She teaches her young students that approach to being an actor and it pays off. When I work with these young kids, they are sharp. They know what’s going on. It helps to know they are supporting my truth. That helps a lot to know you have a great cast there who supports you.

“It wasn’t an easy journey, but it was made more rewarding for audiences and for me as an artist when everyone was on the same page and working hard to support the truth of who Ebenezer Scrooge was. I heard it from audiences. And when I look back on last year and remember the expressions on people’s faces, they were in the moment. They were playing the scenes in their heads and that was very rewarding to see.”

Doyle hinted at what awaits audiences on this year’s journey. There will be the same uplifting moments on Scrooge’s journey. But there will be a few twists along the way.

“Historically over the years, there’s been a cathartic moment for people who see this,” he said. “The reaction at the end of the evening is such that people are literally lifted out of their seats in appreciation of the story they’ve been a part of. Maybe more so than some other shows. They feel a part of the story. They are engaged in a way that really only Dickens can do. …

“I’m sensing it’s going to be great fun and you might find some surprises. But you’re going to have fun.”

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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