This year's A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie isn't J.C. Cutler's first go around with the show, or even the first time he's played a version of Scrooge, but it will be the first time the veteran Twin Cities actor has donned the grey whiskers as the older misanthropic miser.
Cutler joins a long line of actors to take on the role in the theater's signature holiday show, which has been a mainstay since the 1970s.
"I've seen a variety of Scrooge's over the years, on TV, film, and the ones I've worked with, and I'm not trying to do a direct copy. All of that brilliant work I've seen adds to what I'm doing," Cutler says.
Cutler performed in the holiday mainstay five times at the original Guthrie location, including turns as Bob Cratchit (once acting with his daughter, who played one of Cratchit's children) and the younger Scrooge who turns away from love and happiness for the blind pursuit of wealth.
Like any performance, Cutler is drawing on his own experiences to fill out the character. Some of that deeper understanding comes with age. "I have a different understanding of the character than I would have had 10 years ago," he says.
Scrooge, and A Christmas Carol in general, comes with an added challenge. The story, whether in Dickens's original or in any of the myriad of remixes, riffs, and parodies, is extremely familiar to nearly everyone watching the production.
"It's important to not get ahead of the game," Cutler says. "Up until the last second, you have to be able to ask, 'What if he isn't going to change?'"
Cutler's turn as Scrooge marks the second year of a new adaptation of Dickens's story crafted by Crispin Whittell. The British playwright -- who has been in town during the rehearsals -- and director Joe Dowling continue to make changes to the script to bring the most out of the story for the stage. All of this has made the experience much like working on a brand-new play, Cutler says.
By the end, all of this work "will help us to tell the story better," he says.
Next up for Cutler is a return to the Guthrie, and the work of Conor McPherson (the actor was in the Jungle's sublime Shining City several seasons ago) in the Irish playwright's adaptation of The Birds, the Daphne du Maurier short story that also served as the inspiration of Alfred Hitchcock's film.
Before that, there's the journey of an old miser who reopens his heart after decades of darkness. It's a journey that everyone can understand.
"Who hasn't asked, 'How did I get here?' and 'Now that I'm here, can I change?' It's true in life that people change. It's why we can all relate to it," he says.