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Release: Nov. 21, 2001

'Golden Age of Radio' meets the 'true meaning of Christmas' in University Theatres show

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The "Golden Age of Radio" will meet the "true meaning of Christmas" when University Theatres Mainstage presents "A Christmas Carol: The 1932 Chicago Radio Broadcast," Dec. 6-15 in Theatre B of the University of Iowa Theatre Building. Performances will be at 8 p.m. Dec. 6-8 and 11-15, and at 3 p.m. Dec. 8 and 9.

New York actor/director/playwright Bill Galarmo's clever update of Dickens is set in a cramped Windy City radio station in the snowy grips of the Great Depression. Seven hard-up actors and a Scrooge-like station manager grapple with a Christmas Eve broadcast of Dickens' holiday classic, requiring the voices of 33 characters -- from Tiny Tim and the ghost of Joseph Marley to the party at Fezziwig's and nasty old Scrooge himself -- backed up with lightning-quick sound cues.

"'A Christmas Carol' is about imagining, and then making, a better world through giving and love," says director Eric Forsythe, a faculty member in the UI department of theatre arts. "I also think that's what acting is all about. This adaptation marries the two worlds: We see actors in a 1932 radio studio coming to grips with Dickens and his wonderful story. They seek nothing short of a miracle: to change the world for the better.

"We want to say, with Dickens, that miracles can happen if we engage the imagination, the will and an open heart."

Dickens (1812-1870) grew up poor -- his father was repeatedly cast into debtor's prison -- and his fiction is filled with social critique and motivated by the passion of a social reformer. In "A Christmas Carol" he personified his era's growing ideology of ruthless greed in the loathsome but still redeemable character of Ebenezer Scrooge, a cruel, selfish penny-pincher who hates Christmas and charity with equal scorn.

The hardship of the workhouses and slums of Dickens' London was echoed in the traumas and deprivations of The Great Depression nearly a century after "A Christmas Carol" was written. Hundreds of thousands of workers were laid off, and wages were slashed for those who retained employment. "Depression" described not only the economy but also the mood of the public, as basic American values and assumptions were drawn into doubt.

In Chicago, unemployment topped 40 percent, and the news told daily stories of suicides, evictions and food drives. Like the downtrodden and destitute of Dickens' time, the common people of Chicago were longing for inspiration -- or just escape.

Americans were hungry for miracles, and the new entertainment technology of radio seemed like an almost miraculous blessing in troubled times. The possibility of escape into the imaginary world of radio dramas and series kept radio sales up at a time when everyone was pinching pennies -- not out of greed, but out of necessity.

That is the setting of "A Christmas Carol: The 1932 Chicago Radio Broadcast." Dickens' story of miraculous redemption is not only a message of hope, but also the encapsulation of all the values and images we associate with Christmas.

And, in fact, many of these traditional Christmas ideas and images come to us directly through Dickens. The production's dramaturg, graduate student Janet Bentley, wrote, "London's Sunday Telegraph of 1988 asserted that Charles Dickens was 'the man who invented Christmas.' Many Yuletide traditions were lost during the Industrial Revolution and the subsequent migration to the cities.

"Inspired by memories from Dickens' youth, 'A Christmas Carol' revived Christmas in England and gave us our modern image of the holiday. One of Dickens' biographers makes the observation that during the first eight years of the author's life, it snowed every December. This odd meteorological phenomenon that happened in Southern England resulted in our modern image of a white Christmas.

"In addition to the long-cherished images of snow-covered trees and families huddled in warm houses eating goose and pie and playing games, Charles Dickens portrayed a world of infinite possibility and benevolence. . . . the message of 'A Christmas Carol' sought to promote the idea that no way of life is sound or rewarding that excludes the need of loving and of being loved."

Other artistic contributors to the production of "A Christmas Carol: The 1932 Chicago Radio Broadcast" include co-director William Barbour, scene and costume designer Margaret Wenk, composer Michael Cash, lighting designer Ethan Bade and sound designer Kyle Hulsebus.

Tickets are $16 ($8 for UI students, senior citizens and youth) from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be available one hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.

Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Tickets may be ordered on-line 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Hancher's website:<http://www.uiowa.edu/hancher>.

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail: <hancher-box-office@uiowa.edu>.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit <www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa>. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact <deborah-thumma@uiowa.edu>.

The department of theatre arts is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.