Sierra Repertory Theatre presents a brand new adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic with A Columbia Christmas Carol, playing at the Fallon House Theatre Nov.13 through Dec. 20. SRT co-founder Doug Brennan recreates the English tale in a heart-warming Gold Rush story set in Columbia during the 1860s.
In Brennan’s version, Scrooge “takes supper” at the City Hotel. Scrooge and Marley are partners at the Douglass Saloon. The Ghost of Christmas Present is a rough-around-the-edges prospector dripping in gold. Mother Lode favorite Don Bilotti plays Scrooge in a production that will retain Dickens’ message of warmth, generosity and goodwill.
“It carries the emotional wallop of the original story,” said Sierra Rep Producing Director Dennis Jones, who directs the show.
The plot is familiar. Awakened at the stroke of midnight, Ebenezer Scrooge encounters three visions – of his past, his present and his future – and wakes to realize the true spirit of Christmas.
But the settings (the saloon, Fallon House Hotel, the streets of Columbia) and the ghosts (a madam, a prospector and a gunfighter) are unique to the Gold Rush.
Jones and Brennan, part of a group of University of the Pacific students who founded the theatre in 1979, came up with the idea of giving the classic story a regional bent.
“Being the resident company in Columbia, looking for ways to do theatre about the region is high on our list,” Jones said. “This is an enjoyable way to contribute to the history and culture of the community.”
Brennan, Sierra Rep’s go-to when it comes to tinkering with scripts, took on the job. He didn’t set out to change much, but soon found Dickens’ old English language out of place.
“While it’s superb, it doesn’t fit coming out of the mouths of 1850s Gold Rush-type characters in America,” he said.
Brennan’s ghosts banter with Scrooge. So does a member of a group that originated during the Gold Rush – E Clampus Vitus.
Brennan added other details, many of them factual. For example, there’s a reference to bricks from Columbia buildings that were torn down during the Gold Rush. Miners really did demolish buildings, eager to get to the gold in the ground underneath.
Like the original, SRT’s production is divided into five staves, a reference to the musical staff. (A Christmas carol, after all, is a song). There are more similarities, according to Jones.
“Take the gothic darkness of industrial London, add three time-traveling ghosts and mix all that together with the humor, the passion and the drive of the 1860s Gold Rush in Columbia and you have an idea of the evening that awaits you and your entire family,” he said. “Be the first to see what is sure to become a holiday standard.”
A Columbia Christmas Carol runs Nov. 13 through Dec. 20 with performances Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m.; some Thursdays at 2 p.m.; and some Thursdays at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $28 to $45 depending on date and time, with senior and student discounts available. For tickets and information, visit www.sierrarep.org or call the Box Office at 209-532-3120.