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Giving Dickens a new twist
Times photo: Brian Gray John Baumann, left, who plays the character Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, discusses the play with Father Mike Klarer, who adapted the script from the book by Charles Dickens for the Monroe Theatre Guild.
MONROE - There are more than 50 different versions of Charles Dickens' Christmas classic "A Christmas Carol."

So the obvious question for some would be, "Why do we need another?"

The Rev. Mike Klarer, who could be described as an aficionado of the tale of London's meanest miser, decided to write his own version for the Monroe Theatre Guild.

"I wanted to make it a Monroe holiday tradition," Klarer said, before he added with a laugh, "but it isn't a yodeling thing."

Klarer has a collection of movies and stage versions of the book. Like most people who have watched movies of "A Christmas Carol," he has his favorite.

"The 1984 version with George C. Scott," he said.

The story of the play is known to almost everyone. A heartless miser is confronted by four spirits on Christmas Eve, and through a series of dreamlike adventures is taught the real meaning of Christmas.

Klarer credited Dickens and his book with changing how people celebrated Christmas. Christmas trees, cards and carols became more popular after the book was published Dec. 19, 1843. The book also helped change social attitudes toward the poor and changed child labor laws in England.

It was an influential book, he said.

But there was something that seemed to be missing from the many movie and stage versions.

"Everybody knows the play but they don't know a lot about it," Klarer said.

Klarer's version, which took him several months to write, stays as close to the original text and language as possible.

He wanted his play to bring to the audience the authenticity of 1843, the year Dickens published his book.

As he wrote the play, Klarer analyzed each line of Dickens' book.

The first of six performances of the play at Monroe High School's Performing Arts Center will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

John Baumann, who plays "Scrooge," said he's excited to be in the play.

"This is my favorite Christmas story," he said. "I've been fascinated with the movies ever since I was a kid."

His favorite movie version of the book is the 1951 movie that stars Alistair Sim.

Baumann, who is president of The Swiss Colony, joked that it's ironic he would be cast in the lead role. He's learned a lot about the characters as he rehearsed the play, he said.

Baumann said Klarer's adaptation makes Scrooge and the historical period more believable.

"Mike has written a special play," Baumann said. "It entertains and educates. With Mike's adherence to the book and his knowledge of history, it's been easy to work with him."

Klarer said that over the years Scrooge has been portrayed as a caricature, someone who couldn't really exist. He sees Scrooge as a real person.

"He becomes taken up with material things and he worships gold," Klarer said. "We've tried to explain the character of Scrooge."

Baumann said the play helped him discover that Scrooge is a complex individual.

"He keeps people away from him by putting up a wall between himself and others. He's probably like a lot of us," Baumann said. "The spirits try to break through that wall."

Klarer is excited about the premier of his work, but he also looks forward to seeing how the more than 100 cast and crew members bring the play to life.