By John P. Lamb, Company Member, B Street Theatre
For the last two holiday seasons, I have had the great privilege of performing in Buck Busfield’s wry and self-aware adaptation of A Christmas Carol. A task that requires me to stretch the limits of my personality threshold and fully realize 7 different characters in the space of an hour and twenty minutes. These characters range from the integral (Tiny Tim, the sickly and frail child whose innocent inner wisdom is the catalyst for Scrooge’s redemptive turn) to the incidental (a waiter who has no lines, and who does not even exist in either Busfield’s script or the source material), and all must be given back stories, agendas, and desires in order to bring them to life and push the narrative forward. Explaining how I fleshed out all of my roles in this production would be almost as tedious to read as to write. So, instead, I will focus on the character that was the inspiration for this blogs title, a nameless entity listed in the script as Spirit #3.
Spirit #3 isn’t one of the three glorified apparitions that whisk Scrooge away into the Past, Present, and Future. Nor is it the shade of Marley, Scrooge’s old work buddy. In fact, when first presented with Buck’s script, I could not recall our protagonist being visited by any supernatural beings other than the four famous phantasms we all remember from page, stage, and screen. After a quick read of the novella, I was able to extrapolate that Spirit #3 must be one of the myriad specters flying about London that Marley gestures to at the end of the first stave. These spirits all seemed to be in a state of torment, chained like Marley with links forged from their own sins, and forced to face their failings for eternity. Busfield’s script shines a spotlight on the entities Dickens barely mentions, giving them comic bits and grand entrances (utilizing a bit of theatre trickery, my spirit materializes through the mattress of Scrooge’s bed!), and the lack of specifics gives me a great deal of creative freedom in coming up with my spirit’s past. In a suitably Dickens-ish scenario, I decide that my spirit’s name is Albert Banner and that he used to run an orphanage where he kept himself wealthy and the children hungry. Buck’s script gives a clear indication that my spirit’s objective is to issue Scrooge a dire warning in order to save him from sharing the spirit’s fate. So, donning my costume and making my voice ragged and torn from eons of pleading, I am now ready to crawl into the scene and pretend with all my might!
But the word spirit has multiple meanings, and I would be remiss if I didn’t spend a moment ruminating on the clever word-play in this blog’s title. Spirit can refer to a ghost or the animating essence of a being, but it can also refer to a person’s mental or moral nature or qualities (these usually specified, such as a wandering spirit or an unflappable spirit). When one is said to possess a holiday spirit, the second definition is the intended one, yet what exactly does that mean? What are the mental and moral qualities that define a holiday spirit? I believe Dickens had his digits on the answer when he invested his holiday spirits with the spirit of the holidays. Referring to the tormented souls floating outside Scrooge’s window, Dickens writes: “The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.”
It is my sincere hope that all of us embody the holiday spirit this season and seek to interfere, for good, in human matters. Perhaps with enough practice, we may even be able to carry this quality with us year round.
Peace, Love, and Ectoplasm upon you all!
John Lamb currently stars as 7 different characters, including Spirit #3, in A Christmas Carol, extended by popular demand through December 31. Tickets available through the box office: (916) 443-5300 or online.