No humbug here

Sacramento Theatre Company’s David Silberman is one happy Scrooge

David Silberman gives a delightfully miserly performance in <span style="">A Christmas Carol</span>.

David Silberman gives a delightfully miserly performance in A Christmas Carol.

Actor David Silberman knows his way around A Christmas Carol. This year marks his tenth performance in the adaptation originally developed by the Sacramento Theatre Company 20 years ago. Silberman has appeared in the show in Sacramento and also at the Geva Theatre in upstate New York, but until now he’s always played Jacob Marley’s ghost. This year, for the first time, Silberman has taken on the “Bah, humbug!” role.

There isn’t a character around with more clearly defined traditions than Ebenezer Scrooge. Silberman is discovering the challenge of playing a part so famous that many audience members know what he’s going to say even before he says it.

“It’s a little different,” Silberman said of his on-stage experience. “I can see people’s lips moving out there because they know the lines.”

Playing Scrooge is a unique experience for any actor. “It’s this shared ride, this shared story, that we’re all trying to tell,” Silberman said. “When it works, and you feel that energy coming back to you from the audience at the end of the play, it’s magnificent. That’s the wonder of it.”

An actor portraying Scrooge also faces some important decisions. Scrooge begins the play as an icy loner and ends up overflowing with happiness and generosity. The question is, “How fast does he thaw?”

“Philip Sneed [who directed this year’s STC production] and I have had a lot of talks about this,” Silberman said. “I try to fight against thawing too soon. … The script allows you to experience some things early on in the play that could, to the audience, read as, ‘Oh, well, he’s caving.’ That’s the challenge for the actor: to fight against that. It’s much more interesting for the audience if Scrooge doesn’t give in right away.

“The audience wants him to give in,” Silberman continued, “and you can see little signs of him giving in—cracks in the façade. But it’s much more effective if it takes him far into the play before big pieces of this brickwork that he’s built around his soul start falling away and you can actually see the person underneath.”

Silberman is enjoying the role even more because of recent events in his own life. “My wife, Noreen, and I have adopted a 14-month-old girl from Nepal,” Silberman said. “Neither of us have ever had kids before. … I never expected to be married; we’ve been married about six years. And I certainly never expected to have kids.”

Adopting a new baby at an age when some people take early retirement has revolutionized Silberman’s outlook on life—and Scrooge. “I’m no longer the center of my own universe … just as Scrooge realizes that you can’t be happy if you are the center of your universe,” he said. “The only way to be truly happy is to look around you and try to help the people around you and love the people around you. The baby has certainly brought that out even more in me than was already there.

“The joy that comes out in the end of the play for me is doubled and tripled every night,” Silberman confessed. “I just feel the words landing on my own heart when I say them. And hopefully that resonates out into the house.

“With any role, you bring what you have in life experience. I know I’m bringing new life experience to it!” Silberman said. He admitted that he’s so happy in his personal life right now “that it’s sometimes tough to be Scroogy at the beginning of the play.” But the happiness at the end of the play comes easily.

“You have to be careful how much you let the emotion flow,” Silberman added. “It doesn’t do the audience or the play any good if you’re so overcome by the emotion that you are not getting the play across.”

“I love it,” Silberman concluded. “It’s an amazing challenge for an actor.”