The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival is known for staging outdoor summer productions at Boscobel, but when the temperature drops, the Garrison-based troupe retreats to Boscobel House and other regional venues to perform Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."
In addition to expanding the show's content this year, "A Christmas Carol" has broadened its scope by adding a fourth performance venue -- the Katonah Museum of Art -- to its touring schedule. It also will return to the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, the Herbert Alumni Center at West Point and, of course, Boscobel.
The production came to fruition after Terry O'Brien, the festival's founding artistic director, reconnected with the oft-forgotten source material for the well-known tale.
"I had seen a whole bunch of adaptations of 'A Christmas Carol' over the years, and then about 10 or 12 years ago, somebody gave me a hard-bound copy of the book, which I had never read," he said. "When I read it, there was all sorts of great stuff in the book that I had never seen on stage, due to its narrative. There's much less dialogue in the book than you would think, whereas the dramatizations are all dialogue -- they have to be, just by their nature. So, my feeling is: How do you get the Dickens voice into a staged version and still have the advantage of having something brought to life before your eyes?"
Assembling a trusted cast of Katie Hartke, Stephen Paul Johnson, Eleanor Handley and Jason O'Connell is a good start, especially since three of them performed in one or more of this summer's HVSF productions ("Romeo and Juliet," "Love's Labour's Lost" and "The 39 Steps").
Hartke and Johnson portrayed Lady and Lord Capulet, respectively, in "Romeo and Juliet." Handley was Cressida in a previous HVSF production of "Troilus and Cressida." And O'Connell, who played Berowne in "Love's Labour's Lost" and multiple characters in "The 39 Steps," succeeds Richard Ercole, who was in the previous three productions of "A Christmas Carol" but is unavailable this time because of scheduling conflicts, O'Brien said.
"I sort of feel like they're the custodians of the piece," O'Brien said.
Abigail Adams, who has been the festival's managing director for the past 12 years, said the actors' familiarity with one another improves the overall quality of the production.
"We are very much an ensemble acting company, and that's another reason why it works," she added. "And that's really important in ['A Christmas Carol']. Because there are so many parts that switch rapidly, without any costume changes or props to help, they have to switch from character so that the audience understands, and the story is propelled forward."
The show's rapid pace and emphasis on Dickensian narrative yield an experience that O'Brien sees as more emotional than traditional "A Christmas Carol" adaptations.
"We don't have a chance to sort of wallow in our thoughts; our breath is sort of taken away, watching it," he said. "The cast is small, and the audience is very close [to the action]. And I think, without being sentimental, it's very moving, funny and very fast."
Adams agreed. "It's like we shut out the world," she said. "It's great escapism."
The original HVSF production, "Christmas with the Fezziwigs," was limited to the troupe's adaptation of the Ghost of Christmas Past portion of "A Christmas Carol."
"Everybody wanted more," Adams recalled. "They saw a glimpse of these characters, and they were like, 'Well, what happens next?' This was a story everybody knows, right? Everybody's seen it. But it's almost like a brand-new story, the way we're telling it."
The next year, the troupe added the story of the Ghost of Christmas Present to the production.
"But I think, always, we had an eye toward doing the entire thing," O'Brien said. Audiences are invited to chat with the actors and celebrate with a holiday feast after the 85-minute, one-act show, when the message of "A Christmas Carol" will continue to resonate, Adams said.
"That story teaches you about what's really important, in such a wonderful way," she added. "It really is the ultimate holiday piece."
IF YOU GO
What: Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival's "A Christmas Carol"
Boscobel shows: 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, Dec. 8 and Dec. 15; 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30, Dec. 7 and Dec. 14. Boscobel is at 1601 New York 9D, Garrison; 845-265-9575; www.hvshakespeare.org or www.boscobel.org. Tickets are $40 for matinee performances that offer post-show cookies and hot cider, $50 for matinee performances that offer a preshow Boscobel tour and post-show cookies and cider, and $80 for evening performances that feature holiday feast after the show.
Katonah Museum of Art shows: 6:30 p.m. Sunday and Monday, Dec. 2-3. The Katonah Museum of Art is at 134 Jay St., Katonah; 914-232-9555; www.katonahmuseum.org. Tickets are $40 for members and $50 for nonmembers, with a holiday feast following both performances.
Hudson River Museum show: 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16. The Hudson River Museum is at 511 Warburton Ave., Yonkers; 914-963-4550; www.hrm.org. The ticket is paid with museum admission: $5 for adults, $3 for children and senior citizens, free for members, with cookies and cider following the performance.
Herbert Alumni Center show: 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16. The Herbert Alumni Center is on the West Point campus at 698 Mills Rd., West Point. Tickets, which are $65 and pay for a holiday feast following the performance, must be reserved through Leslie Rose at 845-446-1582 or Leslie.Rose@wpaog.org.