It’s hard to be Jewish in Portland during the month of December, especially when you’re looking for a family-friendly evening of seasonal entertainment. While some Jewish-oriented performances exist – like Jewish Theatre Collaborative’s “Hanukkah and the Power of Light” – more often than not Jewish families must settle for the usual December shows such as “The Nutcracker.”
Now we have another option: Wanderlust Circus, one of the many circus arts performance ensembles for which Portland is justly famous, has created a humorous and decidedly alternative version of Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol. In Wanderlust’s version, written by the ensemble’s founder Noah Mickens, Ebenezer Scrooge is also visited by three ghosts, but one of them, the Ghost of Hanukkah Present, transforms this “Christmas” story into a more universal tale.
Eric Stern, founder of Vagabond Opera, plays the eponymous ghost, a part Mickens wrote especially for him. “We’re aware of each other’s theatrical possibilities,” says Stern. “I’ve done other Wanderlust shows, and I hired (Mickens) to direct my first opera.”
Stern takes a more spiritual approach to his interpretation of the ghost than one might expect from a character who sings “Hanukkah Oy Hanukkah” in both Yiddish and English. “I think of myself as a being, in between worlds who is sent by divine emissaries,” says Stern. “Scrooge is facing his own Day of Atonement – he’s missed the mark. Everybody else is scaring him or guilting him, but I do it through humor and singing.” Stern also strives to present the ghost as a multifaceted, three-dimensional character, not a caricature of Jewish stereotypes – “I didn’t want to ‘shuck and jive’ the role.”
To prepare himself, Stern summons what he describes as “a mystical Kabbalistic frame of mind. I’m trying to be infused with genuineness; I don’t think of it as playing a character, but really being a Jewish person, someone from the generation of my great-grandfathers.”