American Christmas

Local actor Cameron Crain explores holiday spirit and patriotism with starring roles in two Christmas productions

Cameron Crain as the title role in <i>Tiny Tim: A Christmas Carol Revisited</i>.

Cameron Crain as the title role in Tiny Tim: A Christmas Carol Revisited.

For many of us, this Christmas will be different in so many ways. Expensive gifts will give way to more understated expressions of love as we head deeper into recession, and prayers for peace on Earth will have a much more profound meaning than before.

This holiday season has been especially moving for actor Cameron Crain, who will star tonight in the final performance of a bittersweet mixture of holiday spirit and patriotism titled Tiny Tim: A Christmas Carol Revisited. This Nevada Shakespeare Festival adaptation of Charles Dickens’ tale presents Tiny Tim all grown up, working as a merchant in Manhattan’s garment district during the turn of the last century.

“Deep patriotism, women’s suffrage and immigration are major themes of the show, with, of course, the Spirit of Christmas as the departure point,” Crain says. “It’s very sad at times, but exhilarating and profoundly satisfying when all is said and done. This is not to say the play doesn’t have its funny moments, but life is like that. Comedy and tragedy are not mutually exclusive.”

The story behind the play may be just as touching. When Florida playwright Steve Rowell heard about NSF’s troubles after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks—more than 600 theatergoers canceled for the company’s Sept. 14-15 productions of Romeo and Juliet—Rowell offered to let NSF use his work in progress without paying royalties.

Director Jeanmarie Simpson then adapted Rowell’s adaptation, using the play as “an opportunity to speak to some of the rhetoric that was floating around” after the terrorist attacks, Crain says.

“Tiny Tim’s heartlessness as a merchant … his exploitation of widows, orphans and even his own nephew … illustrates a lot of the truth about what was going on in this country at that time, and still goes on, if the truth be told.”

At one point in the play, two women playing garment workers present a homemade American flag. During rehearsal, this moment was the catalyst for more reflection.

“The first time the ladies brought out that quilt, I just lost it,” Crain says. “I burst into tears. The whole company did, actually. And it created an opportunity for us as an ensemble to talk about our own patriotism. … This is why theater is so important—not only for audiences, but for those of us who do it.”

Crain is passionate about the importance of theater, especially in these trying times. He says that for the hundreds of people who did attend NSF’s troubled productions of Romeo and Juliet, the cast and crew felt like “rescue workers.”

“Our audiences wanted to be among a group of people—living people—taking a collective leap of imagination to another place, another time,” he says. “We all needed to be reminded that life could be other than as it was being lived at that moment. We needed the theater.”

Now that the curtain is closing on Tiny Tim, audiences can take a break from the world while watching Crain in another big holiday role: playing Ebenezer Scrooge in Ballet Nevada Performing Arts’ production of A Christmas Carol. Though Crain says he is relishing his rare opportunity to play two evil characters, it’s their transformation to goodness that makes all the difference.

“Both characters are the anti-hero rediscovering their hero path. The great part is that after all of the processing, which the spirits facilitate through the realm of magic, there is a catharsis."