MONROE -- “To watch it come to life will be thrilling,” said Fr. Michael Klarer of the upcoming Monroe Theater Guild (MTG) production of the holiday classic A Christmas Carol.
Father Klarer wrote an all-new adaptation of the beloved Charles Dickens’ masterpiece. “Somehow it was in me. It was a gift,” said the priest of his work in an interview.
A Christmas Carol
Production by the Monroe Arts Center & Monroe Theatre Guild at Monroe High School Performing Arts Center, Monroe
• December 12, 17, 18, and 19 — 7:30 p.m.
• December 13 and 20 — 2 p.m.
Tickets: $15 adults, children 12 and under admitted free with adult ticket
Call 608-325-5700 or e-mail:
Web site: www.monroeartscenter.com
|Fr. Mike Klarer
Although the story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s conversion from miser to benefactor is a secular story, Father Klarer thinks it is a “wonderful preaching story” with religious themes.
A playwright is born
How did a priest end up as a playwright?
Father Klarer explained that he has always had an interest in the theater. As pastor of St. Victor Parish in Monroe, he has played parts in some past MTG productions. He played the part of the priest in Fiddler on the Roof and last summer he was one of the card players in The Odd Couple.
Last year, the MTG decided it wanted to make an annual production of A Christmas Carol.
“But adaptations are expensive,” said Father Klarer. “It can cost thousands of dollars to rent a script.”
Joe Peters, principal of St. Victor School who is also active in the MTG, suggested that Father Klarer could write an adaptation. Always a fan of A Christmas Carol (his favorite of its many film adaptations is the 1984 version starring George C. Scott), Father Klarer accepted the challenge.
True to Dickens
He consulted with Richard Hilger, a retired actor who played Scrooge at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and in London. “He advised me to stay true to Dickens’ language. He told me you have to peel away the prose to find the script.
“So I sat down at my computer with a split screen: the Dickens’ story on one side and my script on the other. It just flowed. I finished it the Tuesday before Holy Week,” said Father Klarer.
He said it is challenging to adapt the book for a two-hour show. However, Dickens was very detailed in his writing, which helped with envisioning what he had in mind. “I decided to use as much of Dickens’ language as possible. I didn’t want to ‘dumb it down,’” said Father Klarer.
The priest is fortunate to be involved in helping bring his script to life. He’s been sitting in on rehearsals and giving advice to Director David Bristow and Assistant Director Joe Peters.
There are 75 actors in the cast of the Monroe production, including “many talented people from our community,” said Father Klarer with pride. A number of parishioners at St. Victor are involved with the play, including Henry Schluesche, a second grader at St. Victor School who plays Tiny Tim, and Suzanne Miller, an art teacher at St. Victor who is working on sets and lighting.
Leading the cast is Monroe’s own John Baumann, president of the Swiss Colony, playing Ebenezer Scrooge. Baumann has had previous roles in A Christmas Carol and has appeared in Fiddler on the Roof and The Gold Files.
Baumann praised Father Klarer’s script and his involvement with the Theater Guild. “What he has done is very wonderful. He’s stepping up and getting involved,” Baumann said.
Baumann is a member of St. John’s United Church of Christ, located next door to St. Victor’s. He said the production “appeals across all denominations,” adding, “It’s a community celebration of Christmas.”
Influence of the story
Father Klarer and Baumann have been busy giving presentations on A Christmas Carol to local schools, senior centers, and businesses to promote attendance.
They talk about the history of A Christmas Carol, first published in 1843 at the time of the Industrial Revolution, when machines put hundreds of people out of work. “People were poor and starving,” noted Father Klarer. “One-half of the deaths in London were children under 12.”
The book quickly became a hit in England and the U.S. It has never been out of print.
Dickens’ story led to better labor laws and influenced how we celebrate Christmas. “It rekindled the joy of Christmas,” said Father Klarer. “It continues to be relevant today, sending a message that cuts through materialism. It encourages people to open up their hearts to the poor and destitute in our midst. ”