I plan to have a Soulshares Christmas story up here by Christmas Eve, but I thought I’d share my own personal favorite Christmas story here in advance of the day.

It was Christmas Day, 1990. I had just moved to New York City from Minnesota that August; my brother got married in October, and so of course I went home for the wedding, and being a young lawyer in a big New York law firm, the vacation time I could claim was seriously limited. Which meant that I was alone in the big city for Christmas.

This didn’t particularly bother me, as I was head over heels in love with the city, and any time I spent there was like spending time with a dear friend. But I did want to do something to mark the day. And I noticed that Patrick Stewart was doing a Christmas Day performance of his one-man version of A Christmas Carol, so I got on the phone (this was pre-Internet, needless to say!) and bought a ticket.

 

The theater was packed, which surprised me a little – I was still thinking like a Minnesotan, and I think I’d assumed that every New Yorker who could ‘nest’ on Christmas would be doing so. And Patrick Stewart was absolutely brilliant. His ‘set’ consisted of a chair, a lectern with a book on it, and a trap door in the floor that sometimes had a light shining up through it; his ‘costume’ was a brown, slightly Dickensian suit.  With that much of a backdrop, and his amazing voice, he brought the entire story to life, without once stooping to caricature or imitation. We were like a cluster of enthralled children, watching a favorite uncle make magic.

And then he really did. With a little help.

There’s a scene near the end of the story – I’d imagine most of you know it – in which Scrooge awakens from the visitation of the final Spirit a transformed man, and is trying to figure out how long the visitation of the Spirits has lasted. Patrick’s Scrooge raced to the “window,” which in this case was a pantomime of a window being wrested open, and leaned on the windowsill to look out into the street. (And yes, we all saw the nonexistent window, and yes, he did lean on it.) He looked “down into the street,” that is to say, out into the audience.

“And he spied a young urchin, racing down the street, and he called out – ‘Boy! What day is it?’”

And someone in the audience called back, in pitch-perfect accent, “Why, it’s Christmas Day, sir!”

Everyone in the audience burst into applause. Patrick straightened and stepped back, and the smile on his face was like that of a six-year-old boy on Christmas morning, waking to find everything he ever wanted under the tree. He waited for the applause to begin to die down, then held out his arms to the audience and repeated, “What day is it?”

And the whole audience gave back, “Why, it’s Christmas Day, sir!”

 

There’s a post-script to this story, too. On the way out of the theater, I actually heard a few theatergoers commenting that the audience member must have been a plant. But a few years ago, Patrick Stewart came to Minneapolis, to perform at the Guthrie Theater. He did an op-ed piece for the StarTribune, a full page on the subject of his three favorite moments in a lifetime in the theater. That moment was one of them. And I was there for it!

Advertisements