Joe Chvala takes the director's chair for 'A Christmas Carol'

J.C. Cutler (Ebenezer Scrooge) in A Christmas Carol. 
J.C. Cutler (Ebenezer Scrooge) in A Christmas Carol. 
Photo by Michael Brosilow
After two years as the movement director, Flying Foot Forum founder Joe Chvala is moving into the director's chair for the Guthrie Theater's annual production of A Christmas Carol. One of his first tasks? Re-reading Charles Dickens classic with a different eye.

"When Joe [Dowling] asked me to do this, I went back and re-read the book. I read it differently than I had as the movement person. Then, I was looking at the scenes and the different descriptions about London and what people were doing," Chvala says. "This year, I read things that I had completely forgotten from reading it last year.

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"It is always fun to look back into the characters and the passages that never make it onto the stage. There is a beautiful passage after he visits the Cratchits when he goes to the moors and visits with four generations of coal miners. Then the ghost takes Scrooge further out to a lighthouse and the celebrations of the two people who run the lighthouse. Then they go to a ship with all these sailors who are thinking of their loved ones at home. I was really struck when I was reading it about the light in the dark, the warm in the cold, and how much imagery around that is in the book."

Chvala is working with a script crafted three seasons ago by British playwright Crispin Whittell. "One of the things I really like is the humor. Crispin added a lot of fun humor. The show can get sad and bleak in some places," he says.

Tinkering continues with the new production, while the shifting of actors and the introduction of new performers continues to make the experience fresh for everyone.

"It's a fun thing to go back and see what you want to add to it. There is something that you see that can be added. It's a big epic work, with plenty of opportunities to play around with it," Chvala says.

Some of this is to give the scenes more of a sense of location. For the memories of Scrooge as a youth, Morris Dance troupe was added last year. "It's very short, but it gives it a sense of place," he says.

J.C. Cutler dons Scrooge's mutton chops for the second year. "The way he plays it, you feel the sadness behind the cruelty and meanness," Chvala says.

In that, the director sees part of the universal appeal of the story. "These moments in Christmas in the past were damaging experiences. When we go back into Scrooge's life, we feel sorry for him. There's a feel that anybody can relate to. After things happen in life, you can be harder and get to a place you didn't expect to get to. Everyone has some amount of that in their life," Chvala says.

A Christmas Carol
Guthrie Theater
818 S. Second St., Minneapolis
Previews Tuesday through Friday, opens Saturday
Through December 29
For tickets and more information, call 612.377.2224 or visit online
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Guthrie Theater

818 S. 2nd St.
Minneapolis, MN 55415


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