Q&A with Will Rhys – One classic, one actor

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Will Rhys takes on all the roles in Freeport Factory Stage’s production of “A Christmas Carol.”

FREEPORT – Starting this weekend at the Freeport Factory Stage, local audiences will be able to see a new take on a familiar classic.

On Saturday, Dec. 6, actor Will Rhys will return to Freeport to present his one-man rendition of Charles Dickens’ classic holiday tale, “A Christmas Carol.” Rhys, 67, who lives in Bridgton with his wife, Nancy Kluck, will be bringing Ebenezer Scrooge and all of the other characters to life during the performances.

In advance of his performances in Freeport, Rhys recently took a few minutes to discuss the show and his career.

Q: You are a veteran of Broadway. What are some of the shows that you have been in?

A: (The Broadway shows I have been in are) “The Changing Room,” by David Story; “Jumpers,” by Tom Stoppard; and several shows with The National Theatre of the Deaf, including “Gianni Schicchi; My Heart is in the Highlands” and “The Critic.”

Q: What have been some of your favorite roles you’ve played during your career?

A: One always likes to say, “the one I’m currently doing,” and those include three that I’ve done since I’ve moved to Maine three years ago. They are Malvolio in Freeport Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”; Robert in the Factory Stage production of “A Life in the Theatre” and Teddy in the American Irish Repertory Theater’s production of “Faith Healer.” Other favorites were Tybalt in “Romeo and Juliet,” Scapino in “Scapino” and the chief of police in Genet’s “The Balcony.” Perhaps the most challenging have been the roles that I created in original productions such as “Little Slam” in the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre’s premiere of “All the Tricks But One.”

Q: How often have you performed this rendition of “A Christmas Carol”?

A: I’ve been doing it for the past three years with last year’s engagement at The Factory Stage the longest run.

Q: Why have you chosen to do it as a one-man show?

A: I have directed and been in productions of “A Christmas Carol” in the past and have always loved the power of the story, so when I moved to Maine and was looking for something that I felt I could do to introduce myself to the theatrical community here in Maine, I thought of doing “A Christmas Carol” as a one-man show. An actor who had performed Scrooge in a production that I directed at the Cleveland Playhouse told me at that time that Dickens used to do the story as a staged reading. Then a few years after that, I saw that Patrick Stewart did a one-man version in England and on Broadway. So with nary a hint of hubris, I told myself that if Jean Luc Picard could do it, so could I. I had portrayed Scrooge in a production in the past, so for me it was an opportunity to once again experience the incredible high that comes from traveling with Scrooge as he reclaims his spirit and redeems his life. It’s an exhausting and oh-so-satisfying trip. Playing Scrooge and all the other characters was a challenge that I could not resist.

Q: What are some of the specific challenges to doing a piece like this as a one-man show?

A: I should say that the most challenging thing is to be as honest as possible with all the different characters, to not make them caricatures, to give them a presence that will engage the audience. We all know what happens to Scrooge, but he can’t get to his rebirth without the other characters “challenging” him to re-examine his life. Ultimately, of course, he must reach deep into himself, but he can’t get there without the journey that the Ghosts of Past, Present and Future take him on. The other big challenge is “to trust the story.” Dickens has provided all the necessary information, given us breathtaking descriptions of 19th-century London, and created characters that live through his spectacular and evocative language. As a performer (and storyteller) I must live with and within that language and story. By doing so, the audience will be living it with me. If I doubt myself or the work that Dickens has done, the performance will not work.

Q: What should audiences expect when they come to the show?

A: One guy! Really, but the Factory Stage is a lovely, intimate space in which I can get “up close” and involve the audience on a visceral level. There is very little “production,” and by that I mean sets and costumes. I use minimal props, I don’t change costume and I do most of the sound effects, as well. I rely on the words of the story and my ability to fulfill them to carry the evening. There is a very nice lighting design by Eric and sweet and evocative music by my brother Robert Rees (yes, we spell our last names differently). Again, I emphasize that it is the story that is most important, but I try to make it as imaginative and varied as I can.

Q: When you aren’t acting on stage, what do you like to do?

A: My wife and I moved to Maine because we wanted to take advantage of the outdoors. We have always been runners and cyclists and swimmers, so now we’re adding lots of hiking in the mountains that are so blissfully close, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing right out our back door when there is snow, and long weekends camping. When not doing that, we love dining in Portland-area restaurants.

“Playing Scrooge and all the other characters was a challenge that I could not resist,” says actor Will Rhys.    
Will Rhys, who moved to Maine three years ago, has also directed productions of “A Christmas Carol.”    

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