There is no longer-running, time-honored holiday tradition in Orange County than South Coast Repertory’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol.”
South Coast Rep has staged Jerry Patch’s adaptation of the timeless Charles Dickens novella “A Christmas Carol” for four decades, with Hal Landon, Jr. playing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Landon retired from “A Christmas Carol” at the conclusion of the 2019 production. SCR Founding Member Richard Doyle took up the top hat and scarf as Scrooge, but the pandemic postponed his debut in 2020.
Now, Doyle finally gets a chance to play Scrooge for the SCR production of “A Christmas Carol” that opened this weekend, although he’s played many other roles in the show over the years, most recently the Ghost of Christmas Past.
“He’s been an essential part of our production since it began, giving great support to Hal Landon’s Scrooge in key roles,” said Jerry Patch, who adapted “A Christmas Carol” for SCR. “No one has seen the play as often and as close up as Richard.”
Doyle said he knew that eventually his career path would lead him to the role of Scrooge.
“The first time I saw a play live was when we were living in Italy. My brother, Robert Doyle, played Scrooge in a school production of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ and I was taken aback by this thing called a play,” recalled Doyle. “I remember saying to my mom I want to do that play that Bobby is doing, and she said I’m sure you’ll get that opportunity. Here we are, decades later, and I am getting that opportunity.”
One advantage for Doyle: he’s been in 36 out of the 40 “A Christmas Carol” productions at SCR.
“I have watched and played many parts, and watched Hal Landon play Scrooge,” said Doyle. “We are close friends. At one time we had both of our daughters in the show at the same time.”
Also returning to “A Christmas Carol” for the umpteenth time is SCR founding artist Art Koustik, who plays multiple roles including Joe, the cider vender who also deals in purloined treasures.
“Art is a fixture—he’s a lynchpin in the production,” said Doyle. “Around the theater we call him Uncle Art. He was with SCR when I joined in 1964. We became fast friends over the years. He is very much a part of this cast.”
Doyle mentioned that countless young actors have been in “A Christmas Carol” over the years, and often return to take their own families to see the production and even have their children in the show. And young audiences that saw the show years ago are now grown and bringing their families to share a cherished holiday memory from their childhood.
With that in mind, Doyle said this year’s production of “A Christmas Carol” has changed a little because the new actors want to put their marks on their roles, yet the goal is to still give audiences the show they remember.
“This play is adapted from a novella which Charles Dickens would read aloud,” said Doyle. “We are being as true to the story as we can.”
Another important point, said Doyle, is that “A Christmas Carol” speak to many things in our culture today.
“Today in 2021 we are having the same issues—we have not overcome them.”
Overall, said Doyle, “we are having a great deal of fun being back in the theater, getting up there and telling this story in this production.”
In addition to Doyle’s debut as Scrooge, Hisa Takakuwa, who acted in the play for several years before becoming assistant director, has taken on the role of director since original director John-David Keller retired after the 2019 production. He had helmed “A Christmas Carol” for more than 1,400 shows over the last 40 years.
SCR Artistic Director David Ivers said that Takakuwa’s longtime connection to “A Christmas Carol” makes her the perfect choice to lead this production.
Like Doyle, Takakuwa understands that “A Christmas Carol” is an Orange County institution.
“I think it’s such an important bridge to the community, opening the door and welcoming people back to the theatre,” she said. “There are so many families in Orange County that this is part of what they do for the holidays. It’s a family tradition. Every year, there are multi-generational families who spend their holidays with us, and to be trusted with the responsibility of making sure they enjoy their experience is a great gift.”
Takakuwa noted that half of the adult cast this year is either new or changing roles, which keeps the show fresh. She’s also been excited to adjust to her “new” Scrooge and see how Doyle’s choices as an actor wil impact the show.
She also realizes the joyful tradition of “A Christmas Carol” and how perfect the show is as we come out of “a darker time, resilience, how important human connection is, the capacity to change in a positive way. The show is an important story to tell. It will feel fresher. I think we are all a little more emotional.”
“A Christmas Carol runs through December 24 at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa. For tickets, visit SCR.org.