Theatre Preview: CATCO Presents Twist on Classic with Streaming ‘A Columbus Christmas Carol’

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford Theatre Preview: CATCO Presents Twist on Classic with Streaming ‘A Columbus Christmas Carol’Actors(from left to right) Frank Ruiz (Cratchit), Ernaisja Curry (Fanny) and Patricia Wallace-Winbush (Ebony Scrooge) perform in CATCO’s upcoming virtual production of A Columbus Christmas Carol, Dec. 16-27. Photo credit: CATCO.
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CATCO’s Artistic Director Leda Hoffmann reached out to Detroit-based playwright Julianna Gonzalez to adapt her acclaimed modern take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – originally performed with Black and Brown Theatre – to Columbus audiences and to a digital presentation. I spoke with the playwright by Zoom.

Last year, before taking the reins at CATCO, Hoffmann visited Gonzalez and talked about her process and this Christmas Carol. This year, while planning for a season under circumstances no one could have anticipated, Hoffmann reached back out to the writer to see about slight tweaks to create A Columbus Christmas Carol.

Playwright Julianna Gonzalez – Photo provided by CATCO

“[Working with the Dickens] was a lot of fun for me,” Gonzalez said. “I was pretty familiar with it, but I reread it twice and then I put the book away. [The] main goal of it was to make a play really accessible to families in the Black and brown community here in Detroit. I kind of made the ghosts a little gentler and more guiding, comedic, and then Fannie, the sister character, became this narrator, just to kind of weave that story together.”

We talked a little about the challenges and rewards of working those heavier themes into entertainments geared toward the entire family.

“Every family unit is kind of a microcosm of the environment,” Gonzalez said. “So when I was looking at, like, Cratchit’s family: Tiny Tim, in Dickens, has a disability. So what is the equivalent, other than like an actual disability, that would capture the essence of that character?

“I was like a latchkey kid. A child of immigrants, a child afraid of opening the door. I mean, that’s how I grew up: You don’t open the door for anybody, because you don’t know who’s on the other side. You don’t know that your parents can communicate effectively what’s happening. Just kind of that fear, and also a little bit of shame in that. You can see all of that in this character, in this child. And I feel like that was pretty accessible to the children in the audience as well. Just like, ‘Oh, yeah. Mom does say don’t open the door for anybody.’ like, ‘We do talk on the phone a lot to family members because they’re not here.’”

Responses to the Detroit run (at the Scarab Club gallery and Marygrove College) heartened Gonzalez.

“My favorite thing to write for is for family,” Gonzalez said. “So to see kiddos having a good time and really laughing at the ghosts and having fun with that. And having these big stories, big ideas, like this idea of grief and transformation accessible to kids and see them really grasp that. [I was very happy with] these parents coming up to me and saying, ‘Thank you for sharing that story and allowing for this cast that reflects our family be present.’”

Even grounded in that strong reception, Gonzalez had some trepidation in adapting it to another city.

“I was a little nervous about it initially because I’ve never been to Columbus,” she said. “I was like, okay, I really want to do this really well. I want it to represent the population of Columbus as much as possible.” 

Andrew Pandolfi de Rinaldis (Tiny Tim)  (left) and Frank Ruiz (Cratchit), perform in CATCO’s upcoming virtual production of A Columbus Christmas Carol,Dec. 16-27. Photo credit: CATCO.

That research leaned heavily on the entire CATCO team, providing raw material, anecdotes and Gonzalez specifically cited WOSU’s Columbus Neighborhoods series as an invaluable guide.

“[In] the research that we did together, the resources that were shared with us, we learned that adapting it required very little adjustment,” Gonzalez said. “There’s this rich population in Columbus, not unlike Detroit’s. So there’s a Latino population, a Black and brown population there.”

Hoffmann, as director, kept Gonzalez deeply involved with the process as this production came to fruition.

Gonzalez remarked on casting and adapting, “Actors are like my favorite people, they put the breath in the story. I was continually impressed with how people engage with a camera, [and] this platform. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I really believe that.’ I’m just looking at this tiny little screen, but it doesn’t feel like a film. It felt still like theater, you know? And to see that adaptation to the virtual world was just phenomenal.”

Gonzalez closed with some very warm words about working with CATCO.

“I just hope that Columbus just continues to recognize CATCO for the gem that it is and [recognizes] Leda,” she said. “This new leadership is just a bright light, and I’m so excited for Columbus to have her there. I’m excited for the work that CATCOs going to be doing, and I’m thrilled at how it’s taken care of its patrons and its staff and teams during this time and just continuing to make brave art.”

A Columbus Christmas Carol is viewable online December 16 through December 27. For tickets and more info, visit https://www.catco.org/columbus-christmas-carol.

Patricia Wallace-Winbush(Ebony Scrooge), left, and Kathy Mendenhall (Scrooge’s Mom) perform in CATCO’s upcoming virtual production of A Columbus Christmas Carol, Dec.16-27. Photo credit: CATCO.
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