‘the master. Dickens Hat arrives in Northlight this festive season

In past holiday seasons, Northlight Theater has presented several new seasonal plays for a certain era – Lauren Gunderson’s “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” and “The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley.” The highly engaging plays expand the story of the characters from Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice.

Northlight has now commissioned another new play for the season, one of 19 by Charles DickensNS Century Victorian London. Michael Hollinger “Mr. Dickens’ Hat, a play with music, takes holiday warmth, cheer and synergy, adds a bit of Victorian darkness, and wraps it all around the story of a young girl working to free her father from a debtor’s prison.

About seven years ago, Hollinger had been “living in Dickens’ head” and wrestling with how to adapt the author’s novel A Bleak House, when, when he wandered through his mind, he began to think of the spread of “A Christmas Carol.” Wonder if there’s something new to add to the holiday season that will capture the same spirit as the classic story.

“I wanted to write something that didn’t feel specifically connected to Christmas, but had everything an audience would look for in a play while on holiday,” Hollinger says, adding that he also wanted to use what he calls “open theater” in which a small band shares a story. As she constantly shifts between roles to “represent a community in all its diversity.”

In the fairy tale “Mr. Dickens’ Hat, 12-year-old Kate works in a Victorian hat shop to earn money to pay off her father’s debts. In the store is a hat, which the famous showman used to carry water for the victims of a train wreck (true story). In the scene comes a pair of struggling thieves; they must Kate thwarts their plan and saves the hat and secures her father’s release.

When creating Kate’s character, Hollinger says he wanted to break away from the usual “Dickens” young women who are pure and good. I wanted her to be very sharp and very smart.”

Director David Catlin, a member of the Lookingglass Theater troupe, fell in love with Dickens a long time while working on the company’s acclaimed 2002 show “Hard Times”. Hollinger’s play, he says, includes “everything I love about Dickens”.

“Like Dickens, Michael enters this really hard-hearted world and captures the soul of Dickens’ character,” says Catlin. “He created a lively and real world with characters of all classes and schemes, as well as some delicious, despicable villains.

“And in Dickens fashion, he navigates between these big epic moments like being chased through an ice train stand and these delicate jewel-like moments as if Kate and her dad are remembering her late mother.”

Cordelia Dudney plays Kate with the rest of the cast – Kristen Bonoin, Rocher Khazanchi, Casey Foster, Mark David Kaplan, Nick Sandys – and they play many roles.

For Hollinger, the hat shop setting provided an ideal way to help actors transform from one character to another simply by means of a hat. “at 19NS British society in the century, you knew a person’s class by his clothes,” he says.

Catlin adds that imagination plays a huge role for both actors and audiences.

“Playing multiple roles like this requires creative and imaginative sportsmanship from the actors. They have to change between characters in the blink of an eye,” Catlin says, adding, “I think it also delightfully requires the audience’s imagination to make it work.”

Hollinger, who teaches playwriting and songwriting at Villanova University, has also written choral and play hymns. The direction of the music is Chuck Larkin.

“What I really wanted to do was find forgotten gems of Victorian carols not specifically related to Christmas,” Hollinger recalls. “But I could not find anything. Therefore, I decided to write it, and managed to design songs in a musical style of the 19th century.”

“Mr. Dickens’ Hat was scheduled to open for the 2020 holiday season, but, like all theater, it has been canceled due to the COVID-19 shutdown. Hollinger feels the need for the play is greater now than it was before the pandemic.

The play is about how a community is created, how do we gather, how do we communicate and communicate and where do we find warmth in cold times? All the values ​​the play is about, we need a lot at the moment.”

As for that movie adaptation of “Bleak House,” it still has Hollinger’s head spinning. The complex narrative about a notorious lawsuit should not be underestimated; It does not adapt easily.

“I keep getting close to him like an Everest,” he says with a laugh. “I get to base camp and after that I keep going back. But it remains Dickens’ favorite novel.”

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