Ebeneezer Scrooge, the miserly and irritable protagonist of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, could be diagnosed with a handful of mental illnesses as prescribed by the DSM-IV, the diagnostic handbook and professional bible of psychiatrists, counselors and therapists across the United States. Clearly in the throes of a major depression, with tendencies toward anti-social personality disorder, Scrooge nevertheless emerges from the story as a likable sort of hero who has been healed by visions of his past, present and future. His therapy worked.
How appropriate then that this classic story of redemption should be played out by Express Theatre Northwest, a local theatrical troupe comprised of individuals with mental and physical disabilities but producing shows for all audiences. The company, which offers its productions through SFCC's Spartan Theatre, is four years old and had great success with A Christmas Carol last year.
"We have a lot of the same leads, and we're using a lot of the children we had last year," says Frank Sullivan, founder of Express Theatre Northwest. "It was a great success, which is why we brought it back this year."
Director Joan Malone points out that like Scrooge's poor-but-good-natured clerk Bob Cratchit, Charles Dickens was himself no stranger to adversity.
"Charles Dickens was raised in abject poverty," she says. "At the age of 10, he had to go to work; his father was in debtor's prison. He saw how men and women -- and especially children -- were treated when they had to go to work in the factories and warehouses."
Dickens' gift for writing lifted him out of a future of hard work and early death. He found success as a novelist, but even then, it was while he was struggling with Martin Chuzzlewit that A Christmas Carol came to be.
"Martin Chuzzlewit was failing, and he needed to pay the bills, so he wrote it," says Malone. "He told a story about this horrible old miser, this mean, nasty, hated-by-everybody, no-friend-in-the-world man who sees his past life before his very eyes and changes into a warm and loveable fuzzball of a man."
This adaptation, by Israel Horovitz, follows the novella with one significant difference.
"It follows almost exactly the book, but Israel Horovitz took a liberty with Jacob Marley, who shows up in the first scene in the book," explains Malone. "He said, 'What if I made this man the narrator throughout the play?' So Marley is the narrator through the entire play, and both he and Scrooge have huge parts."
While the play is not a musical, it does have a "soundtrack" of original music written by Doug LaPlante, whose musical The Brain was one of Express Theatre Northwest's first productions and is now being readied for its debut as a mini rock opera in Toronto in 2002.
"When we first did The Brain, the concept of mental illness was difficult, it was experimental in Spokane," says Malone. "Now that we're doing mainstream stuff along with it, people are being really supportive and coming out to see our productions."
Malone finds special relevance in Dickens' story today.
"It's made us all aware that everybody is important in his life, and that you matter. It was first published in 1843, but that message is still so true."
& & & lt;i & A Christmas Carol: Scrooge and Marley plays at SFCC's Spartan Theatre Dec. 14-16 and Dec. 19-22. Performances are at 7:30 pm, with a 2 pm show on Sunday, Dec. 17. Tickets: $10; $5 12 and under. Call: 624-8073. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &