Manhattan 'Christmas Carol' written by Shelton native
Published 1:55 pm, Thursday, December 12, 2013
"I wanted to stay truer to Dickens' intent than most versions allow," Opatrny said in a recent interview of the production running through Sunday, Dec. 22, at the Interart Theare on West 52nd Street.
"We hope it's a little deeper and more complex," the writer said of bringing more of the social commentary and psychological complexity that is a part of such other Dickens' classics as "Great Expectations" and "Oliver Twist."
"The novel is a lot smaller than the rest of his canon, so what we've done is taken that little kernel Dickens gave us and extrapolate from it," he said, adding that his version of the story will dig deeper into one of the causes of Scrooge's isolation (and meanness) -- the death of his sister.
The writer wanted to look into the questions of "how did she die and what did he (Scrooge) do or not do? ... His guilt over the matter."
"Our version is still hopeful and optimistic at the end, but rather than have an immediate turnaround (by Scrooge) we want to show that life is more complicated than that," Opatrny said.
"I've always loved the story but was never completely satisfied. As a kid I watched every version but every time I saw it, there was something unsatisfying about it. Two years ago, I thought, `Let me try something.' I started an adaptation and then presented it to the theater company."
As company spokesman David Gibbs pointed out, "Charles Dickens planned to publish a political pamphlet entitled `An Appeal to the People of England on behalf of the Poor Man's Child,' but instead wrote `A Christmas Carol.' This adaptation returns to the story's original intent as an examination of an unjust socioeconomic system that benefits a few at the top while the masses struggle to meet their basic needs."
Opatrny has been managing director of Blessed Unrest since he co-founded the off-off Broadway company in 1999. The 39-year-old Shelton High School graduate traces his theater career back to participating in the Summer Youth Connection program run in Shelton for the past 30 years by Gary and Francesca Scarpa.
"That was my first experience," he said of being taught by the Scarpas. "I fell in love with theater right away."
Opatrny laughed when I suggested that anyone who has been running an off-off Broadway theater company in New York City since the turn of the century should have a good grasp of what "Dickensian" means.
"It is a constant challenge. Lately I have thought, `Wow. I work very hard and get very little financial return.' But we do it for other reasons," Opatrny said of the company he runs with his wife, Jessica Burr, who is artistic director.
Blessed Unrest has been luckier than many New York companies in finding a permanent home base at Interart Theatre in 2005. The troupe has also performed at the Public Theater and for the past eight years has participated in a theatrical exchange program in which its shows have been presented at Teatri Oda in Prishtina, Kosova.
"The real estate situation in New York is quite brutal. Many small spaces of 50, 60, 70 seats have been lost," he said of the venues that are perfect for the sort of work Blessed Unrest does.
As managing director, Opatrny has to do the grunt work of fundraising -- "We all wear many hats" -- but he also gets to see the immediate results in the work of his company and to explore such writing projects as "A Christmas Carol."
"We are all used to working with minimal resources. In this show, six actors play 36 roles with tons of costume changes," he said.
With an $18 ticket price and no seat more than three rows from the action, Blessed Unrest is a great, inexpensive alternative to Broadway for theatergoers on a budget.
"I think there is a place for the spectacle of a Broadway show ... but people get excited by the intimacy of what we do. They're pulled right in by it," Opatrny said.
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