ONE MAN, MANY CAROLS
Gus Kreiger is just a single person but starting this coming weekend, he’ll transform into a full ensemble of more than twenty distinct characters over the course of his performance of A Christmas Carol: The One-Man Play, directed by Drina Durazo.
The process of creating the show began when Kreiger, now based in Los Angeles, performed in the ensemble of The Hartford Stage’s production of A Christmas Carol in Hartford, Conn. According to Kreiger, “That was when I sort of got interested in the pageantry of what you could do onstage” and he came to see the show as a strong candidate for the one-man treatment.
This is by no means Kreiger’s or director Durazo’s first time at the Edison. Theatregoers may remember their work on Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery in February 2017.
Kreiger sees the one-man show as a rite of passage for stage actors, “the flaming hoop you have to drop through … to get the official stamp.”
He didn’t immediately jump into the process of creating the show but kept it in the back of his mind for several years while working as an actor in Los Angeles. It came to the surface as he was “on track to being married” when he suggested to Durazo that they consider making that dream project a reality.
“A couple of years came and went,” said Kreiger, “The year that we ended up getting married was the year I reached out to Shira [Dubrovner] and the Group Company”.
Dubrovner told him that Mammoth was booked for the season, but put forth the possibility of performing in Bishop, where Kreiger performed the show in late 2018. Since then, he’s performed A Christmas Carol at The Group Repertory Theater and The Whitmore Theater, both in North Hollywood.
“I always love it when an actor takes on the challenge of how to transition from character to character in these plays,” says Dubrovner. “It’s almost in the vein of clowning.”
Dubrovner called Kreiger’s interpretation “creative and innovative,” noting that it’s really lovely to be able to have a play that can appeal to adults but also be just as entertaining for young kids.”
In terms of actually creating the one-man play, “it started very mathematical,” says Kreiger. He began by researching the run times of unabridged A Christmas Carol audiobooks, knowing that about half the text would have to be cut because “unless you’re doing something truly unique, most [one-man shows] are in that 70-90 minute range.”
He then made “pruning passes” through the book to whittle down the word count in different sections, often reading portions out loud to Durazo to check time and obtain feedback.
The original draft, Kreiger says, was heavy on the narration, “but we realized as we went along that the more we could put [the show] in the mouths of the characters … the more involving it would inherently be. “
In a one-man show, the characters are purposefully created to be distinguishable from one another as costumes can be extremely limited. “We made sure that everybody kind of had their own vocal inflection and pitch … but we absolutely do play with with hats and scarves,” says Kreiger, “It’s just enough of a suggestion from scene to scene.” The same goes for the set, which by the same logic as costumes can be very minimal. Kreiger noted that the show “is very much written to exist in this fluid suggestion of space.”
For Kreiger, the one-man aspect fits well with the source material, as it “still very much about the transformation of this one guy … When we have a single performer relaying the whole thing, it becomes much more intuitive.”
“I like to think there’s that potential for redemption or change in all of us the way that there is for Scrooge,” said Kreiger.
Kreiger explained that his inspiration for playing Scrooge comes from a number of different sources, including Alastair Sim’s 1951 turn as the mizer and the more modern performances of Michael Caine and Jim Carrey. Bill Murray’s interpretation in 1988’s Scrooged? “Not so much,” Kreiger said with a laugh.
Christmas Carol: The One-Man Play opens Friday, December 20 and continues until December 29. Performances are at 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are available at www.edisontheatre.org