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Defending the Christmas spirits at Taproot

Johns as Solomon Rothschild. Photo by Erik Stuhaug
Bill Johns is back at Taproot Theatre Company for their Christmas production “The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge.” It’s more Victorian madcap fun for Johns, but decidedly less of a blue role than his previous turn as the wild Luigi of “The Explorer’s Club.”

Along with being more clothed than Luigi, John’s character of Solomon Rothschild is much more of a straight man. “I’m defending the spirits of Christmas and the ghost of Jacob Marley against the accusations of Ebenezer Scrooge,” he said. “All of them have problems on the witness stand. And the Ghost of Christmas Present is anything but present, because of course it is Christmas Eve and he’s so busy.” It’s up to Solomon to put all the various witnesses at ease “and be comforting in contrast to Scrooge’s mean-spirited lawyering.”
Johns as Luigi and Conner Nedderson
in "Explorer's Club." Photo Erik Stuhaug

During the course of the play, Scrooge appears to have backslid from his conversion to a more caring gentleman. Once again parsimonious, he’s handling his own prosecution of the ghosts for illegal trespass, kidnapping, and so on.

“Mark Brown’s script is as much fun as ‘Explorer’s Club.’ There’s terrific gags in it and a wonderful message at the end,” said Johns. Fans of Charles Dickens’ original will also recognize many of the lines, delivered with a twist, from “A Christmas Carol.”

“The fact that Solomon’s a Jewish lawyer defending Christmas in Victorian London is not lost on Brown,” said Johns. “Really what Solomon is defending is the whole idea of charity, whether it is the Christmas spirit, or the Jewish spirit, or the Hindu spirit.”

In the handsome set by Mark Lund, the courtroom fills the entire stage.

“(Director) Scott Nolte asked us to play to the audience as if they are the gallery in an actual courtroom or to think of them as the jury,” said Johns. “It’s a tight, tight space. You can be looking upstage at the balcony and connect with just one person. See them straighten up as they realize you are talking to them…and the other people around them get caught up in the action. It’s just magical. Like you’re doing a performance for one.”

In his role, Johns is one of four actors who stay on stage and as the same character the entire time. The others are Larry Albert as The Bailiff, Stave Manning as Judge Stanchfield R. Pearson,and Nolan Palmer as Scrooge.

The other four actors create the multiple witnesses called to the stand. Robert Gallaher, Faith Bennett Russell, Daniel Stoltenberg and Anastasia Higham go zipping up and down the aisles, managing some lighting fast costume changes.

“Daniel’s got one of the more massive physical challenges, as one of his characters is 8 and half feet tall,” said Johns. “Anastasia is so sweet as the Ghost of Christmas Past, but also kind of slippery.”

On opening night, the audience seemed more than willing to play along, standing to attention when Albert called for “All rise” as Manning took the bench. The entering of Tiny Tim’s crutch into evidence created a number of giggles as did the legal questions raised as to whether or not Marley was truly as dead as a doornail.

“There’s an absolute joy to this,” said Johns. “I love doing Christmas shows. People leave feeling good.”


Taproot Theatre Company is mounting two holiday treats this season. “The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge” runs now through Dec. 30 on the Jewell Mainstage. Next door, in the Isaac Studio Theater, a live version of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is playing Nov. 30 through Dec. 28. For more information on both shows, see Taproot’s website.

Daniel Stoltenberg as a voiceless ghost and Faith Bennett Russell as translator. Photo Erik Stuhaug