Play tells story behind Dickens’ famous work - Winston-Salem Journal: News

Play tells story behind Dickens’ famous work - Winston-Salem Journal: News

David Zum Brunnen will play Charles Dickens in "The Night Before Christmas Carol" at the Brock Performing Arts Center on Dec. 8.

Posted: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 12:00 am
Lisa O'Donnell/Winston-Salem Journal

Elliot Engel has devoted much of his life to studying Charles Dickens.
But when it came to watching “A Christmas Carol” performed on stage, Engel had reached his limit.

He figured others had, too.

“I didn’t think the world needed one more performance of ‘A Christmas Carol,’” Engel said with a laugh.

So Engel wrote a play himself, a one-man play that focuses on Dickens and how he came to write “A Christmas Carol,” one of the most enduring stories in the Christmas canon.
Engel’s play, “The Night Before Christmas Carol,” will be performed Sunday at the Brock Performing Arts Center in Mocksville. David zum Brunnen will play the role of Dickens.
The setting is Oct. 13, 1843, a good two months before the novella hit the streets of London. Engel, who said he has read almost every book written about Dickens, mixed fact and fiction to re-create the story’s origins.

“He wanted to educate the British public of the 1840s on the perils of being poor and the responsibility of being rich,” said Engel, a Raleigh resident who has taught at Duke University, UNC Chapel Hill and N.C. State University.

The book was an immediate sensation in England. Today, the tale of a miser’s Christmas Eve transformation is most familiar to people as a play, not a book.

Engel said he wrote his play to shed more light on the book.

“Dickens wrote it as fiction. But the problem with that is that you get all this wonderful dialogue, but all the description is lost,” Engel said. “Dickens is good at dialogue, but brilliant at description. I wanted to try to recapture Dickens’ point of view. What you get with a play is the director’s point of view.”

Two hundred years after Dickens’ birth, his story has become universally beloved. This Christmas, homes around the world will be decorated with Dickens’ villages, complete with Tiny Tim and Scrooge figurines. Carolers will dress in Victorian-era costumes, tapping into a vein of nostalgia, in an age of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

“We are just far enough away from Dickens’ period that it’s antique and nostalgic,” Engel said. “We’re crazy about anything that is Victorian because it seems quaint and far away. It’s a golden age. The 21 st century loves Dickens in a way the 19 th century didn’t.”

Engel, a regular visitor to Davie County, noted that the “single most famous work about the Christmas spirit” is being performed an hour away from the birthplace of O. Henry, whose short story, “The Gift of the Magi,” Engel called “the second most famous story written about the Christmas spirit.”

Sidniee Suggs, the executive director of the Davie County Arts Council, said the play offers theater patrons a twist on a familiar tale.

“We could all go to High Point to see a wonderful version of the ‘A Christmas Carol,’” Suggs said in reference to the annual performance of the play by the N.C. Shakespeare Festival. “But here, we’re offering something a little different. You’re getting ‘A Christmas Carol’ from a totally different perspective.”

If You Go
WHAT: The Night Before Christmas Carol
WHEN: 7:30 p.m., Sunday
WHERE: Brock Performing Arts Center, 622 N. Main St., Mocksville
TICKETS: $12 for adults; $10 for students/seniors, call the box office at (336)751-3000


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