Monday, December 5, 2011

Actor Robert Heinly Talks about 'A Christmas Carol' and His Character, Marley

Actor Robert Heinly as Marley in LTA's 2011 production of A Christmas Carol.

What attracted you to A Christmas Carol?
I think the first time I experienced A Christmas Carol was in an animated version on TV when I was no more than nine or ten years old. It was just stark black and white images. I can still picture Marley's jaw dropping all the way to the floor, although it may just have been to his chest. And the Ghost of Christmas Future was terrifying too. I remember feeling so relieved and happy that Scrooge was okay the next morning. 

The themes of redemption, of living life to its fullest, of taking the opportunity - the risk - of being truly happy in this world, these are universal themes in literature. Plus, this is a story that speaks to all of humanity. Scrooge specifically is a Christian tale, but merely referentially, this character is iconic, and exists in one form or another in every culture and religion.

What do you find appealing about your character, Marley?
As a character, as in the novel, Marley is a tragic, desperate fellow. One wonders if he was as crusty as Scrooge is and they were kindred spirists, perhaps with Marley as the elder, after whose death Scrooge becomes worse and more crusty. Marley has the chance to convey his regret to an earthly man (I always remember a quote from Full Metal Jacket, "The dead know only one thing: It is better to be alive.") This is a pretty miraculous thing: what would you do with that kind of chance, and whom would you single out to speak to?

As a role onstage, he is a character actor's dream. (Mine too.) You have makeup and hair possibilities as well as costume and prop choices with which you can really go wild. You can go places with voice and movement that still requires the same honesty as the living characters, but can have a "surrealism" to them also. I tried to think of a way to do the jaw thing onstage like in the animated TV version. Any ideas?

What do you want audiences to take away from the play?
I think the most important thing for the audience to take away is Scrooge's arc, his transformation. I loved this story because I was so scared of and for this man, and therefore, so relieved the next morning when he woke up and everything was okay and he became a better man. That will be our job as actors - do you dislike Scrooge at the start? Do the people in the story make you feel negatively toward him? Do we show you how he go the way he is? Do we show you good in the world for him to see? Do we offer him a chance at redemption? And, does he make the best of it?

What do you think is different about this year's production?
I appeared in the LTA production of a A Christmas Carol in 2004, 2005 and 2006 with Mike Baker as Scrooge and Donna Farragut directing. I have played several characters, a Gentleman, Fezziwig, Spirit of Christmas Present and a Gossiper. I had a total blast doing these shows every year. This year's director, Robin Parker, has done less doubling up of roles than previous shows, in which a few actors took on several parts. So, this year's cast is larger. The street sequences and dance at the Fezziwigs looks amazing. The main differences between the earlier shows and this year's model are in the technical department. Where as Donna's show was more like a traveling troupe type show, with wonderful accompaniment on piano, Robin's production is darker, more gothic, with more of an almost hybrid reader's theatre meets Tim Burton sort of feel to it, with lots more material from the Charles Dickens' novel included in the narrative and dialogue. Music and sound effect cues abound, and we fly in bits of scenery. Donna's show had the cool practical trap door for ghostly entrances and exits. Robin has the ...oops, almost gave away some stage secrets.

I'm also glad Robin was looking for an actor to play only Marley. In Donna's show, the actor playing Marley also appeared in the mistletoe scene as Topper and had to sing. While I can sing well enough in a choir, I'm no soloist. I'm a much better growler and shrieker.

The LTA production of A Christmas Carol, directed by Robin Parker, opens December 8 and runs through December 18. Tickest available for purchase at, www.thelittletheatre.com.

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