Over the 33 years that Trinity Rep has been staging A Christmas Carol, many actors playing Ebenezer Scrooge have growled and grumped, cantankered, and curmugeoned around the stage. Three women have worn his scowl, and for the past dozen years there have been two Scrooges in two casts, as though so much meanness (and eventual redemption) was too much for a single, frail human being.
Each actor has put his or her own spin on this dervish of a role, and we all have our acting favorites. But for me — and I've been enjoying the permutations since the early 1980s — the physical personification has always been Tim Crowe. Tall and properly petulant. Lanky and cranky.
He has taken on other parts in the annual event as well, being a professional chameleon.
"I played Christmas Present; I played the undertaker's man; I played a solicitor," he says. "I narrated it all the way through and played all the spirits in a production that Brian McEleney did — I'd say about 10 years ago. And I played turkey boy in that rendition as well. So I've covered the waterfront."
He estimates that he has stormed around as Scrooge 13 or 14 times, first in the late '80s. And what has changed for him on stage in all those years?
"Frankly, delight in doing the role," he says. "The first few times you do it it's really very deceptive. It takes a tremendous amount of energy and focus, and the big stuff comes at the end with the reclamation, the high energy.
"A lot of the time, Scrooge is watching people that affect his life, so you have to be completely focused on those scenes and what's happening and how it's affecting him," he continues. "So the whole thing that 'acting is reacting' becomes very prominent. It takes a great deal of focus and concentration to maintain that throughout the performance. I was weaker in the earlier renditions that I did, but now I'm very much nailed into it and have a delight in doing it."
Much of his enjoyment has to do with being unleashed emotionally — this is a 19th-century melodrama, after all. "They had to fill a house — no microphones or anything, so that the acting was very much vigorous. And this is the approach that I've taken.
"So it needs an energy, a type of energy that's very much out there. Charles Dickens wrote characters that were basically in primary colors," he elaborates. "Christmas Carol is basically a parable. There's not much layering; there's not much Chekhovian subtlety."
Crowe has also been in the director's chair for a Trinity Rep production, directing Howard London in 1983.
"Howard is a very gentle soul," he recalls. "And as a director, I tried to work with the grain of the wood. It was a Scrooge that early on wasn't as cruel as I played him. If you play Scrooge you've really got the [early] office scene to set him up, the beginning of the journey, so we've got someplace to go."
And how does he feel about Trinity doing a single show instead of doubling up, hoping to fill all those seats?