|By City Pulse Staff|
Sequels are rarely better than the original, and following up Charles Dickens is a bold move. Yet who hasn’t wondered whether Ebenezer Scrooge could maintain his new attitude past Dec. 26th? Williamston Theatre offers one possible outcome with “Ebenezer,” an original play by Michigan playwright Joseph Zettelmaier.
The story takes place on Christmas Eve, 15 years after the events depicted in “A Christmas Carol.” Scrooge (Arthur J. Beer) lies dying in a hospital ward, and as midnight approaches, he desperately tries to convince his nurse that his Christmas ghosts will appear again.
As the plot unfolds, the audience learns that Scrooge did indeed remain a benevolent man after that fateful night. He is proud of his achievements, yet still harbors some regrets as the end approaches. Scrooge is a better man, but Zettelmaier hasn’t completely deified him.
Tiny Tim (Joseph Seibert), now a British Naval officer called Timothy, arrives to pay his respects. Having just returned from an assignment in America, he is emotionally damaged by the horrors of the Civil War. He has all but given up on the humanity and the power of small acts of kindness.
The audience also learns that secretive and solitary nurse Alice Poole (Alysia Kolascz) had crossed paths with Scrooge and Timothy years ago. Scrooge may be the patient in this hospital, but in reality Alice and Timothy are the ones who need healing. Beer is fantastic as Scrooge, easily juxtaposing the dying man’s acceptance of his fate with his desperation to hold on until his ghosts come back. Kolascz, too, masters the duality of Alice, her friendly and warm demeanor masking her fragility.
Zettelmaier’s works often veer dangerously close to manipulative sentimentality, but the power of certain plot points and the acting in this production save the work from becoming too twee. Then again, only an old school Scrooge could sneer at a story that promotes kindness and hope during the holidays.
Seana McKenna, a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada, has played over 40 roles in her two-decade-long stint with the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. This week she takes the Wharton stage for “Shakespeare’s Will,” a one-woman show based on actual events about Shakespeare’s widow, Anne Hathaway. Although the story is pure conjecture, Hathaway was an actual person, and Shakespeare did, indeed, leave a will with mysterious requests.
“For example, he left his wife his second best bed, which asks the question: why?” McKenna said earlier this month, by phone from San Francisco where she was teaching. “So in some ways it’s a mystery story. It’s quite accessible and really quite funny.”
Although the story takes place during Shakespeare’s day, don’t expect any “thou”s, “thine”s or “alas”es.
“This is a very modern show, and it’s perfect for people who are daunted by Shakespeare,” McKenna said. “There’s only one sonnet — and no accents.”
She said that Shakespearean English was actually closer to the modern American English dialect, making “Shakespeare’s Will” closer to how Hathaway would have spoken, anyway.
“When I teach young American students, there is a certain intimidation about Shakespeare,” She says. “There’s usually an inferiority complex. You just have to have the passion and a big spirit to make those words come out and be alive. I tell my students, just read it out loud, and read it simply.”
And that, McKenna says, is her favorite thing about Shakespeare — his timelessness.
“He was just so psychologically ahead of his time,” she says. “We haven’t changed that much in 500 years.”
Although the show was not written by the Bard (it was penned by Canadian writer Vern Thiessen and premiered in 2005), McKenna said the show is “a tribute, of sorts” to the classical style of writing, and her character will be quite relatable to contemporary viewers.
“It’s basically the story of a stay-at-home mom — it’s just that in this case, she just so happens to have been married to William Shakespeare,” she said. “I love the fact that the silent woman behind the scenes finally gets a voice in this show. Anne Hathaway has gotten a pretty bad rap. We don’t know what makes any marriage tick — no one knows what’s going on privately.
So in some ways, it’s sort of like ‘The Real Housewife of Stratford-on-Avon.’”