PHOTOS AND SKETCH COURTESY OF PLAYMAKERS
Every Character Tells a Story
Abubble burst. Four stockbrokers took villa resi- dences at Florence.
Four hundred nobodies were ruined.
And one of them was Mr. Nickleby.”
The words of Charles Dickens
bounced, line by line, around the tables
until they again reached the first actor.
“And Mr. Nickleby took to his bed,
Apparently resolved to keep that, at all
And shortly afterwards his reason went
Sounds of flipping pages, clearing
throats and squeaking highlighters filled the
rehearsal room. Actors, reading scene after
scene, pushed through snags and slip-ups.
Heads moved from binder to speaker to
The gears of the PlayMakers machine
The first rehearsal of The Life and
Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby had begun,
with 25 actors becoming 150 characters,
each distinct in manner and voice, to tell
the story of how Nickleby, his sister and his
mother are left penniless in 1830s England
after the death of Nickleby’s father.
For this year’s holiday production, PlayMakers Repertory Company is bringing
Dickens to Chapel Hill, but rather than a
more predictable Christmas Carol or Oliver
Twist, PlayMakers chose the two-part play
— rarely revived due to its almost seven
hours in length and huge cast size.
“The whole play revolves around this
idea of what happens when you wake up
one day to find out you’ve lost everything,”
said Joe Haj ’ 88 (MA), PlayMakers’ producing artistic director. “Given the financial collapse of the last year, I think it will resonate
in a way where it is not unbelievable now
to think that you could wake up tomorrow
with all of your life savings gone.”
Top, the entire acting company gathers in first
rehearsal — among them, they’ll play 150
characters. Above is a completed set model,
one of the largest sets in PlayMakers’ history,
designed by scenic designer McKay Coble ’ 79,
chair of UNC’s dramatic art department. On
the opposite page is a costume sketch by Jan
Chambers for the character Mrs. Crummles.