Ghost Encounters of a Third Kind

Three ghosts. One actor. Don Pugh reflects on his multiple identities in this weekend’s A Christmas Carol.

Diplomatically, Don Pugh admits that he is not necessarily drawn to one ghost over another.  The fact that he is playing Marley’s Ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Past, and the Ghost of Christmas Present in Intrepid’s upcoming staged reading of A Christmas Carol is more “a heck of a lot of fun” than anything perplexing.  Still, Don did have a few reservations in determining his interpretation of each spirit.

“I didn’t want to go too far,” says Don.  “It’s important not to take away from Dickens’ story.”

While casting one actor as the three main ghosts helps to keep the cast size down, director Brian Mackey saw some wisdom in the choice as well.  In short, he was eager to capitalize on Don’s talents and admits that this actor has some great insights into the spirits who set the stage for Scrooge’s transformation.

“The challenge is in portraying the Ghost of Christmas Past,” says Brian, who also adapted the script, along with fellow actress Rachel van Wormer.  In truth, Dickens is a touch vague in his depiction of this particular spirit, and Brian and Rachel – in an effort to remain true to the story – tried to translate descriptions such as “like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man” and “from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light” into something workable.  Enter Don Pugh, who admittedly portrays this character “differently than anyone else.”  How exactly?  We will have to wait for the reading to find out if there will actually be a flame-head on stage.

“There are engrained and established preconceptions about Marley’s Ghost and The Ghost of Christmas Present already,” says Pugh.  “Past is the only enigma.”

Don is happy to be able to illuminate Dickens’ words, commenting on the ability of Brian and Rachel’s adaptation to let them flow, changing them as little as possible.  He also feels that the play captures the mysticism of the time in which it was written, when the hauntings of spirits would not necessarily be a  supernatural tale, but a cautionary one.

“People thought they had these spirits about them,” says Don of his research.  “It was a dark time, literally and figuratively.”

While he has played The Ghost of Christmas Present once before, this is the first time he has taken on these multiple roles.  It was the variety of the parts that drew him to the challenge, and is also what he has had the most fun with so far.

“But it’s the words of Dickens that are the most important,” says Don, underlining Intrepid’s mission to use the text as the primary source of inspiration and interpretation.  And what story do these particular words tell?

“The beauty of Christmas to lighten up people’s lives,” Don says simply.

With or without a flame-head remains to be seen.  — T.T.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, adapted by Brian Mackey and Rachel van Wormer, will be performed as a staged reading at the Encinitas Library, Saturday December 14, 5:30 pm reception, 6:00 pm reading.  RSVP at $15.