Hannah Daly is living her dream. The actress returns to Portland Stage in the role of Belle in the theater’s production of “A Christmas Carol,” opening Saturday.
Daly, 25, acted in the ensemble of children for eight years, from the time she was a fourth-grader at Longfellow Elementary School until she graduated in 2011 from Waynflete. She always hoped to return to Portland Stage to play Belle.
“It’s a role that I wanted to play since I was a little girl when I saw Sally (Wood) play it. Working on it now, I am able as an adult to relate to it so much more. As a child, I knew it was sad and she was important, and I knew she got to wear a pretty dress. I wanted to be able to do all those things,” Daly said.
As an adult who has experienced disappointments in life and in people, Daly relates to the character differently than she did 15 years ago. In the Charles Dickens’ classic, Belle is the long-ago sweetheart of Scrooge, who visits the greedy old man in a dream as the Ghost from Christmas Past. Belle and Scrooge were engaged to be wed when both were young and poor, but she broke off the engagement when Scrooge became obsessed with wealth.
At a time in America when conversations about the income gap and how society cares for its poor are central to the political discourse, Daly sees Dickens’ story, and Belle’s role in articulating Scrooge’s change in his character and his mistreatment of people on his road to personal gain, as a statement of the times. “The story is just sitting a lot more heavily with me now,” she said. “It was all about Christmas magic to me as a child, but now, especially with the time we are in politically, the story is weighing a lot heavier on my heart.”
As has been her custom, Anita Stewart, the theater’s artistic and executive director, directs this version of the play with respect to the poetry of Dickens’ language and authenticity of Victorian London. There are some changes and some familiar faces. Maine actors Sally Wood and Dustin Tucker return to the cast this year, but Daniel Noel does not. The Portland actor played Marley for many years, filling the theater with his booming voice. This year, Yonatan Gebeyehu is playing the role.
After graduating from Waynflete, Daly studied theater in upstate New York at Syracuse University, graduating with a bachelor of fine arts degree. She spent a year in New York and returned to Maine to pursue acting, in part because most of her professional-actor role models, Wood and Tucker among them, lived in Portland. “The idea of being a tiny little fish in New York did not appeal to me. I wanted to be part of a smaller community,” she said.
She acts across Maine, with Good Theater in Portland and the Theater at Monmouth and elsewhere, and picks up commercial work in Boston doing TV ads for Target and other national chains. She recently filmed a TV spot for the Rhode Island lottery and does voice-overs.
And now, she’s a role model herself to the kids in the ensemble of “A Christmas Carol.” They look up to her, just as she once looked up to Wood. She’s takes the role seriously. Having adult actors to look up to inspired her when she was a kid and made her want to do exactly what she is doing now.
“As a kid, the thing that kept me coming back to it was a love of theater and a love of the way I was treated at Portland Stage. I felt like an equal to these professional adult actors. I never felt they were talking down to me or that I should be any less than the level of professional they were,” she said. “As a kid, that’s an empowering thing that these people, who are living the life you want to live, think you can do it.”
WHERE: Portland Stage, 25A Forest Ave., Portland
WHEN: 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, noon and 5 p.m. Sunday; through Dec. 24
HOW MUCH: $40 to $45 through Dec. 20; $50 Dec. 21-24
INFO: portlandstage.org or (207) 774-0465