Larry Yando, Goodman’s beloved Scrooge, created stage in his mind for streaming ‘Carol’
Interview: Veteran actor says audio version of Dickens’ Christmas classic posed challenges, but it also offered advantage of intimacy.
By Lawrence B. Johnson
Chicago theater audiences have come to know Larry Yando as an actor of many parts, each of them invariably expressive of profound truths about the human condition. But it’s just possible that after a run of 13 Christmases past and present – and doubtless more yet to come – the form Yando most solemnly, joyfully and indelibly inhabits in the minds of most is that of Ebenezer Scrooge.
At this season of the year when the want of Goodman Theatre’s perennial staging of “A Christmas Carol” is keenly felt, we can still rejoice in the abundance of Yando’s gifts as that squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner Scrooge. Constrained by the pandemic, Goodman isolated Yando in an audio booth – with the rest of a large cast similarly separated – for a free streamed production of Dickens’ imperishable tale that continues through New Year’s Eve.
“It’s so in my body that in my little booth I just acted out the play as I have always done it,” says Yando. “I grew up as a dancer. I think physically. I never sat down, even for the final recording, but moved around the stage in my mind. I could see the other actors through our plex barriers – I could see whoever was in a scene with me, and that was terrific. I didn’t change much.”
While Yando has never acted in a radio play, he says he instinctively grasped both the demands of a purely audio performance and the advantages it gave him as an actor. Absent all physical interaction, he had to communicate those gestures through “reactive sounds.” But whereas on the stage he must always project to the back row, the intimacy of “radio” – with his mike hanging from the brim of a baseball cap – allowed him the expressive inflection of a true whisper.
“The great thing was just to go into that rehearsal room after eight months of despair, and it had been nothing less than that,” Yando says. “It was so exhilarating to see other actors. The plex barriers disappeared.”
Still, the veteran actor says that not feeling the presence, the vibe, the energy of other actors immediately around him was hard.
“That required some imagination,” Yando says. “A lot of voices in my head helped me – some who were there, others from the past. The stop and go was hard. Scrooge’s journey is cumulative. One thing leads to another. So I had to hold things inside me to have sufficient fuel to continue and sustain through pauses.’
Not having an audience was bizarre, Yando says. “I’m not a big curtain-call guy, but you do like people clapping for you. To see the faces in the audiences every year, and how the story has changed them – this year in particular. Dickens’ novella is about all of us.
“Scrooge is a man lost in the darkness, lost in himself, a man who cannot get beyond his own skin or through his pain and fear. He is damaged. Somehow, in two hours, he finds the light and sees other people. He finds empathy, joy, possibility. He finds hope again.”
Scrooge’s redemption, abetted by the fantastical Christmas spirits, is authentic, Yando says – a transfiguration that comes from embracing others as “fellow passengers to the grave,” as Scrooge’s nephew puts it.
“It comes through opening yourself up to the world,” the actor says. “The (jubilant) bedroom scene at the end is hard for me. I can’t fake one minute of that. I have to truly embrace the world. It’s like opening up your chest and saying, ‘Look what can happen!’ It’s a little daring for an actor, but also exhilarating – and also miraculous.
“As an actor, I can’t back off from the damaged Scrooge in the beginning. I don’t think he’s cute in that first scene. He isn’t Mister Magoo. He’s a mean, nasty person, but he will turn 180 degrees. I have to be there at the beginning and at the end. It really is a long way to go in two hours. But it’s possible, and the audience knows it’s possible.
“It’s why I’m in my 13th year doing this role. It’s why I got into theater in the first place: to have that exact thing happen.”