While versions of the holiday classic fill many stages this season, Whidden's evening in Oswego offers a fresh approach to the story. The veteran artist and 1975 Oswego graduate brings Dickens' characters to life, from nocturnal spirits to the boy who fetches a turkey on Christmas morning.
For Whidden, his challenging one-actor presentation is also a theatrical homecoming. Forty years ago this month, he was tapped as a college junior to play Scrooge in the memorable staging conceived, scripted and directed by the late Rosemary S. Nesbitt, then a member of the theatre faculty.
"Having seen Carl's portrayal of Scrooge in that production, I look forward to experiencing the complete story through his gifts for storytelling," said Mark Cole, professor of theatre specializing in acting and directing.
"He brings a perfect combination of empathy and humor to comic vignettes like the party given by Mr. Fezziwig and the touching moments with the Cratchit family," Cole said. "Dickens' wit and generosity of spirit will come alive in Carl's performance."
For the notable 1973 production, Nesbitt re-fashioned the stage to resemble a 19th century Oswego theatre known as Doolittle Hall -- complete with a painted Victorian act curtain. That setting allowed her to add dramatic embellishments to the production like a cameo appearance by Dickens himself. Her research showed the British author could well have visited Oswego during his American tour of 1867.
"Dickens himself often went on the road performing excerpts from his novels, so Carl follows in a time honored tradition," adds Cole.
Memories of '73
Over 150 participants, both college students and children of the community were recruited for six performances in December 1973. Nesbitt added engaging elements like snowball fights and audience sing-alongs to Dickens' basic storyline. Carl Whidden hopes many who remember that ambitious production will attend his performance as a 40th anniversary celebration. His characterizations will be based on Nesbitt's original script.
Artwork from the 1973 production, loaned by Ellen Stengel Wahl, will be on view following the program. Wahl, who served as a student scene designer that year, now directs the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Oswego County in the college's Office of Business and Community Relations. Her husband, Mark Wahl, designed the original lighting.
When John Shaffer, Artswego coordinator for the college, called Ellen Wahl this spring, she knew right where to find the renderings she'd done for the Nesbitt production.
"I had made Christmas presents of them to my parents," Wahl said. She retrieved, from her mother's former home on Long Island, the 15- by 30-inch sketches that had been enlarged to 15 by 30 feet, loaning them to Artswego's present-day performance by that long-ago "Scrooge."
"What a great idea" of Whidden's, Wahl said. "Forty years -- I think it's so cool. "
Tickets for "A Christmas Carol" with Carl Whidden cost $18 ($5 for students and children). For more information, an artist video and a link for ticket purchases, visit oswego.edu/arts. Tickets also may be purchased at any SUNY Oswego box office location, online at tickets.oswego.edu or by calling (315) 312-2141.
Patrons with disabilities needing assistance should call 312-2141 prior to the performance. Parking is included in the cost of the ticket, and is available in the employee and commuter lots in front of and to the east of Culkin Hall. Hewitt Union may be entered from the east or west sides.