Unique Spin on a Christmas Classic at TAP

Most of us are familiar with “A Christmas Carol.” But you probably haven’t seen the classic tale told in the way that Third Avenue PlayWorks (TAP) is telling it this December.

TAP’s version of the story is a 1940s radio play, with each cast member playing a radio host. That way, only five actors (Elyse Edelman, Neil Brookshire, Cassandra Bissell, Ray Jivoff and Dan Klarer) can voice an entire cast of characters.

Brookshire, for example, plays eight characters — and they’re not all roles he would usually be casted in. 

“We’re all playing different ages and genders, which is fun,” Brookshire said. “I’m playing Mrs. Fezziwig, for example. I’m playing an old man and a young kid.” 

These major transitions between characters is a challenge unique to the medium, according to Bissell, who is Brookshire’s partner on- and off-stage.

Audiences might see film actors playing very different roles throughout their careers, but “when it’s happening in the context of a play, it happens very quickly,” Bissel said. “The audience is getting to see the actor just, right before their eyes, make a 180 degree turn and change characters and I feel like that is an inherently theatrical thing that you only get to experience in live theater.”

In one of the more jarring character transitions, Ray Jivoff, who plays Ebeneezer Scrooge, voices Santa during a “commercial” between scenes.

In real life, Jivoff is no Scrooge. Instead, he calls himself a “huge Christmas person,” hosting pre-pandemic holiday parties and spending weekends decorating windows at TAP. He has acted in plays year-round, but he said there’s something special about doing a play during the holidays.

“There’s a real holiday nature to it,” Jivoff said, with audience members, often families, making it a tradition to come see holiday plays. “There are a lot of people where this is their one theater excursion for the year.”

The holiday spirit extends backstage too, according to Bissell. All the actors in this play are locals – so most of them already knew each other and some had already acted together before rehearsals began on Nov. 22.

Though Bissell and Brookshire are both used to traveling for work during the holidays, working so close to their home in Egg Harbor is a welcome reprieve.

“It’s really nice to be home at this time of year, sort of hunker down and be at home with our cat in our cozy little apartment, but still be working,” Bissel said.

For the last few years amid the pandemic, the holidays haven’t looked like what the three actors are used to so it seems fitting that this year’s “A Christmas Carol” is a little different too.

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