The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY)
Unconventional casting in Sage’s ‘A Christmas Carol’
TROY, N.Y. » “A Christmas Carol” is a tale of redemption.
In the Charles Dickens’ story, Ebenezer Scrooge, after being visited by the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future, is converted from being a lonely miser to a joyful generous man.
It is a conversion we associate with an elderlyman. Indeed, the story flashes back to show the potential Scrooge had for happiness when he was a younger man.
With this in mind, it’s legitimate to ask – how old should an actor be to play Scrooge in a theatrical production?
Should Scrooge be in his 60s or 70s to show a redemption of a long-wasted life? Perhaps a better choice is amiddle-aged man in his 40s or 50s who can reflect on how he decides to live the second half of his life?
For Tyler Cardona, the answer is 20- years- old. He believes it is never too young to make a choice on how to live a fruitful life.
He also claims the emotional choices of young people can be as life-assuring as one made by more mature individuals.
We’ll soon know if he’s right. The 20-year old Cardona is playing Scrooge in the Russell Sage College production of “A Christmas Carol” that is being offered through streaming Dec. 2Jan. 6.
In a recent telephone interview Cardona acknowledged that the conventional wisdom that relates a spiritual awakening to age is understandable. However, he feels emotional and philosophical changes can happen to younger people as well.
“It’s all about how you view the world,” he says. “If you are in a dark place it is easy to be angry at others. Rehearsing the play, I came to realize that Scrooge doesn’t want to be mean. He wants to be understood. I think that is the same for everyone no matter their age.”
Cardona’s race presents another challenge for the young Cardona to be accepted as Scrooge. He is a Black man.
Cardona is of African-American and Puerto Rican heritage. His family moved from the Bronx to Lansingburgh about 10 years ago. He went to Lansingburgh High School where a production of “Little Shop of Horrors” planted in his psyche a love of theater.
After graduation, he enrolled at Russell Sage College in downtown Troy, because of its small but welcoming theater department. Now in his sophomore year, he earns tuition money serving as a resident assistant.
However, college is not a sanctuary from the outside world. He admits being a Black youth during the first two decades of a century that has been in social turmoil – and especially harsh for people of color – has given him some perspective of Scrooge’s reluctance to be a full member of his society.
He says, “Living as a Blackman today is not easy. Politics, Black LivesMatter, social turmoil, all make it difficult to live in the moment.”
He continues, saying, “If nothing else, it makes me understand why Scrooge steps back to decide his life isn’t great. He chooses to do something about it – starting with making the best of life as it is right now. Me too.”
Indeed, that attitude extends to the possibility that some members of the audience will not accept a Black youth playing Scrooge.
To that issue, Cardona says, “They can deal with it. At the end of the day, my choices as an actor will determine the success or failure of my performance. If people want to look past my work on stage and live in the past, let them do whatever they want. I choose to live in the present.”
To put it in perspective, Cardona references his favorite version of the tale, “A Muppet Christmas Carol.” He points out that Bob Cratchit was portrayed by Kermit and says, “He could make you laugh and at the right moment he could bring you to tears.
Making his point, he says, “If people can be touched by a Muppet playing Bob Cratchit, there is no reason why a 20-year old Black man can’t be successful playing Scrooge.”
“A Christmas Carol” produced by Russell Sage College, Troy. Dec. 2-Jan. 6. There is a $10 fee for 24 hours of streaming. Go to theatresage.edu