The upcoming readings of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol at the Katonah Museum of Art promise to do much more than get folks in the holiday spirit.
The presentations, slated for Sunday and Monday evenings, are set to feature four actors from the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (HVSF). Sans costumes, props and a set, they will take turns narrating and reading as various characters in a rendition that emphasizes the author's descriptive voice.
"It's very fast-paced, very moving," Terrence O’Brien, artistic director for HVSF, said. "The audience can hear Dickens' narrative...They get a lot of interesting, beautiful commentary and description."
Three of the actors, Eleanor Handley, Katie Hartke and Stephen Paul Johnson, have been a part of the reading since it began four years ago. They know the script by heart, for the most part—as does Jason O'Connell, the latest addition to the cast.
In trying to fit a reading meant for four actors, O'Brien didn't alter or rewrite the script. He simply "trimmed and divided" where necessary. But he wanted to be sure the presentation reflected the classic's depth—something he noticed not during a production, but when he sat down with a copy of the literature.
"We wanted to make sure that we had the whole story, all the major events," he said. "I think you need those in order to feel what the important things are, and to feel the transformation that [Ebenezer] Scrooge has at the end of the story."
That transformation is one of many topics audience members may broach with actors once the reading wraps up. A feast focused on foods from the era, as well as beer, wine and mingling, will follow.
"The actors are so gracious," said Allison Chernow, director of development at the museum. She was recalling last year's performance. "Not only do you get to see them up close in the gallery [where the interpretation unfolds], you get to talk to them afterward. I think that's unique."
The interaction is an important aspect of the production from the actors' perspective, too, O'Brien said. It gives them a chance to hear directly from the audience.
Katonah resident Maria Kronfeld was part of the audience at the museum last year. She, too, had a positive experience. A big fan of the company and the shows at Boscobel house and gardens in Garrison, Kronfeld had been hoping to attend a reading ever since she learned Dickens hosted public readings often.
"It's different than what you'd think the reading would be like," Kronfeld said, adding that the actors use lots of body language. Their recitations brought the audience to tears at some points, and drew big laughs at others. "I think the language, the turns of phrase, are so beautiful. It's sort of awesome to hear it from the actors."
Kronfeld won't be able to make this year's reading—and it's "killing" her. She knows her teenage daughter, who is set to attend with a friend, will enjoy it, though.
"I would recommend it to everybody," she said.
The readings will begin at 6 p.m. Sunday (Dec. 2) and Monday (Dec. 3). Tickets are $50 ($40 for museum members). Reservations are requested, so call 914-232-9555, extension 0, or visit this site. Click here for details on presentations happening at other locations between now and mid-December.