Matthew Reddin

The Rep’s “Christmas Carol” gets a second dose of Aaron Posner

The director returns for his second take on "A Christmas Carol," celebrating its 38th production in a row.

By - Nov 29th, 2013 03:04 pm
"A Christmas Carol" returns at the Rep for its 38th year, and its second directed by Aaron Posner.

“A Christmas Carol” returns at the Rep for its 38th year, and its second directed by Aaron Posner. All photos courtesy Michael Brosilow.

The Milwaukee Rep has presented Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol every holiday for almost four decades, but the directors chosen to guide that production have changed over the years. Last year, artistic director Mark Clements brought Aaron Posner, a D.C.-based director who’d already worked with the Rep on his adaptation of My Name is Asher Lev and To Kill a Mockingbird, in to the Pabst Theatre, where he and his cast were able to give the production a lighter, brighter spin.

A year later, he’s back at the Pabst, along with many of last year’s actors including Christopher Donaghue, the actor who took his first turn as the Rep’s Scrooge alongside Posner last year. With them and a collection of new additions, he says he’s excited to carry on the work he began in 2012, telling the story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s holiday redemption.

Christopher Donahue returns as Scrooge (R), but casting a new Jacob Marley (Craig Wallace, L) has given Posner a chance to tweak the scene for the latter actor's portrayal.

Christopher Donahue returns as Scrooge (R), but casting a new Jacob Marley (Craig Wallace, L) has given Posner a chance to tweak the scene for the latter actor’s portrayal.

Posner says he was largely tapped to direct the annual production (replacing former Rep AD Joseph Hanreddy, who also wrote the adaptation with Edward Morgan) due to his professional emphasis on writing and directing adaptations of great works of literature – a juncture of page and stage that originally led him to his career in theater. “There’s so many great, moving, powerful human stories that were not written for the theater but were written for other forms,” Posner said. “The challenge of engaging with those works of literature and figuring out how they can best live on stage is something I studied and then fell in love with.”

This year, he says, much of his work has been a continuation of what he began last year, although the infusion of new blood has helped him reimagine some of the play’s scenes, including an especially-potent-this-year scene between Belle (Beth Mulkerron) and young Scrooge (Michael Doherty) and the appearance of Marley, being staged differently to fit his portrayal by Craig Wallace instead of last year’s actor Gerard Neugent. In 2012, his focus was more on getting into the play as a whole, and liberating some of the production’s unrealized humor. “There was a desire to blow the dust of [Carol] a little bit, and to sort of see it with new eyes,” Posner said. He said it was fun just to ask basic questions of the show, helping to polish the adaptation’s positive moments and bring nuance to its darker moments as well.

One of the many tweaks he made was to bring Carol’s children better into the production, moving them from the periphery, where they mostly served as “window dressing” to boost the play’s cuteness factor, into the center of the production. Posner says he’s been thrilled to discover Milwaukee’s young actors are up to the task. “We’ve worked with them very hard to make sure they’re not good kid actors, they’re good actors. … It’s moving, actually, to watch young people step up to that degree.”

Posner’s standards aren’t just high for his young actors, of course. He says the Rep’s production of Carol differs from that of some other theaters across the country, who treat the piece as a blow-off performance that less-talented actors who wouldn’t be considered for “major” productions can be slotted into. Instead, he and the Rep have scoured local and national pools for the best possible actors that could join the production, and has the Rep’s talented crew at their backs to support them on a technical level.

Posner hopes to remain with the production for the foreseeable future, and says he will be continually looking for new developments to make year-after-year. “It’s appropriate and helpful to always keep a sense of discovery,” he said. For now, he’s ready to let his take on Dickens’ classic take the stage for a second holiday season, bringing both the holiday cheer and holiday reflection it’s become so famous for.

The Rep’s 38th production of A Christmas Carol runs through December 24 at the Pabst Theatre. Tickets can be ordered online or at (414) 224-9490.

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