'A little magic': Leander's Way Off Broadway Community Players present Dickens' 'The Cricket on the Hearth'
The Cricket on the Hearth is not Charles Dickens’ most famous Christmas story – that would of course be A Christmas Carol, which has been adapted into innumerable films, plays, cartoons, TV episodes, and one-person shows over the years. But The Cricket on the Hearth was very popular at the time of its publishing in 1845, and was the subject of a few early-20th century film adaptations and a 1967 Rankin/Bass TV special. And this holiday season, it’ll be onstage in Leander, where it’s being produced as a play by the Way Off Broadway Community Players.
“I think we just wanted to do something different,” says Bethany Watkin, head of the production committee for Way Off Broadway. “There’s a whole collection of his Christmas stories that are absolutely wonderful… but this one is so endearing and really sweet. I really like it. There’s a toymaker in it, and it’s really a lovely story. A little magic.”
Actor Michael Costilla is performing in The Cricket on the Hearth for the second year in a row – he was in a Zoom reading of the play last Christmas season. This year, he’s happy to get to revisit his role of Caleb the toymaker on an actual stage. “You’re kind of confined to this box [when performing via Zoom],” he says. “As an actor, you don’t ‘act’ per se, but you react. So you’re reacting to what other people are doing and what other people are saying. And having them right next to you there doing it, it’s a lot easier than sitting in front of the computer and doing it.”
Costilla says his first performance for a live audience after the start of the lockdown was in the middle of the summer in, appropriately enough, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “It was in Leander, in a place called Smooth Village, which is an outdoor venue,” he says. “And so we got to do Midsummer underneath the trees, in midsummer.”
Carol Beth Anderson, who was Costilla’s costar in that production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and appears with him again in The Cricket on the Hearth, is also fond of the outdoor venue. “It’s so appropriate for Covid. So you can kind of have people of all comfort levels that are willing to come to an outdoor show,” she says. “And I just love it. There’s something wonderful about being outside. It’s great for mental health, it’s great for physical health. You’re just out there, even if you’re hot or you’re cold or whatever, and doing live theater. And it’s kind of just getting down to the basics. You’re limited in what you can do with sets and lighting, but you’re just doing the art. And it’s really, really fun.”
One of Way Off Broadway’s goals with this production is to update the sensibilities of the tale a bit. “You can take this beautiful piece of literature [and] bring into the 21st century, even if you’re not setting it in the 21stcentury,” Anderson says. “But you can start to bring out some modern themes while still putting it in the context of this beautiful old story, and I think that’s something we’ve been able to do. We’ve been able to bring a little more feminism into it, [and] definitely bring some more healthy attitudes about disability into it.”
Watkin says The Cricket on the Hearth also has two other big advantages going for it: “It was a good one for family-friendly audiences here in Leander,” she says, adding with a laugh, “and it’s free! Royalty-free plays are always wonderful, especially now in this [difficult financial] climate.”