With giant puppets and reimagined updates, the University of Idaho Theater Department combines tradition and originality to bring new life to the classic story, “A Christmas Carol.” The show opens tonight at the University of Idaho’s Hartung Theater.Two years ago, Daniel Haley attended the same show on the same stage. So captured by the imaginative telling of the story, he asked to be part of future productions. Haley, now playing his second season as Ebenezer Scrooge, is a UI graduate in theater performance who now works with actors as part of Washington State University’s experiential teaching in veterinary medicine.
Besides his appreciation for UI’s variation of the holiday tale, Haley has a unique connection to “A Christmas Carol.” It was one of his first professional acting gigs and was the show he chose to direct at the Moscow Community Theater, where he met his wife-to-be, Rebecca. On the closing night of last year’s show, the couple learned she was pregnant with their first child; 10 week-old Cordelia has offered her own vocalizations during this year’s rehearsal.
The UI’s annual offering of “A Christmas Carol” is intended to provide a holiday tradition on the Palouse — an idea whose positive reception is evidenced by last year’s sold out performances.
But performing a familiar story is a challenge, Haley said; people feel they know what to expect. That’s partly why the show features some distinctive elements, like puppets, that challenge the audience’s imagination. In addition, the show undergoes modifications each year.
“People who have seen it before will see some things that they recognize, but we try to come at it with fresh eyes,” said Haley. “We want the telling of it to be a tradition but we don’t want the story to get old.”
Not only is the show a tradition for the community, but Haley sees it as a show that’s about community — starting with the fact that attending a performance is a communal act.
“Everyone laughs together, everyone is shocked together, everyone is uncomfortable together — and togetherness is the point of the story,” said Haley.
It’s that same community which Haley sees as a force that normalizes the outliers — those like Scrooge who, for whatever reason, are disengaged with the goodness in themselves.
“The ghosts show Scrooge people who are doing good things even though they don’t know they’re being watched — and that changes him,” said Haley. “It seems simplistic, but I think that’s the power of community.”
In that sense, Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, is the hero of the story, Haley said. He invites Scrooge to dinner in spite of continued rejection. He doesn’t lose heart or his sense of humanity. And for Haley, that’s what the story is about.
“That’s a better way to live,” said Haley. “The door remains open — and yes, that leaves him open to pain and to attack, but it’s still a better way.”
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: “A Christmas Carol”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m., Dec. 3-6, 10, 12 and 2 p.m. Dec. 5-6, 12-13
WHERE: University of Idaho Hartung Theater at 625 Stadium Dr. in Moscow
COST: $15/general admission, $10/UI faculty, staff and seniors 55 and over, $5/children 12 and younger, free/UI students with ID. Tickets are available at BookPeople of Moscow, the theater office in Shoup Hall Room 201, at the door or by calling (208) 885-6465.