One man's holiday metamorphosis brings 'A Christmas Carol' alive in San Diego

One man’s holiday metamorphosis brings ‘A Christmas Carol’ alive in San Diego

Paul Maley’s one-man show of the classic Christmas story is becoming a tradition at the San Diego Kroc Center.

During the holidays, Salvation Army employee Paul Maley transforms—embodying Charles Dickens and characters from a “A Christmas Carol” in a one-man show that’s becoming a tradition at the San Diego Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center, where Maley works. With its promise of hope and the possibility of change for the better, the story embraces themes inherent to The Salvation Army.

“When I’m performing, I feel like I’m a tour guide through a transformational story,” Maley said. “Being able to bring an audience along via their imagination into a whole different world, to experience characters and situations and transformation is fulfilling…I have the joy of playing over 30 characters.”

In the play, Dickens has assembled a group of friends to see him enact his latest story, “A Christmas Carol.” Maley said Dickens loved to do this when he had written a new book. The staging is minimal, with only a portable door, chair, table, coat rack and wooden box, plus a few simple props and costumes.

Maley adapted his one-man script from a four-person version he had previously performed with Lamb’s Players Theatre, a local group. Over the years he’s performed it at Christmas for churches, community centers, retirement homes and schools, and even once at a party in someone’s backyard.

For Maley, who has a background in theater, it’s a shift from his role as Administrative Support Coordinator at the Kroc Center. And while he’s performed the show for years around the city, 2023 will be the third season he’s held it at the center, where it’s offered free of charge, with any donations used to support The Salvation Army’s local programs.

In December 2022, San Diego Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) beneficiaries attended the show at the Kroc Center, with Captains Jennifer and Paul Swain, ARC Administrators for Program and Business, respectively.

“The men and women in our program had not ever seen anything like it,” Paul Swain said. “They were overwhelmed with gratitude and awe.” Jennifer Swain said the beneficiaries were still talking about it months later.

A new relationship grew from that event. Early in 2023, Maley attended an event at the ARC.

“He was so impressed with our beautiful chapel that he suggested a special performance of ‘A Christmas Carol’ just for our beneficiaries,” Jennifer Swain said. “We requested a Christmas in July performance to allow those men and women who had not been with us at Christmas to see this special show. He said ‘yes’ with enthusiasm and the impact was felt again.”

Maley said while he rarely is able to have lengthy conversations with audience members, he can tell when people are moved—the ARC group was.

“So much of the heart of the show is about transformation,” he said. “Scrooge goes from a place of deep disappointment about life, and he has profound regrets about his choices in the past and the results that have occurred…It was really beautiful to perform a story of this nature for a group of 100-plus people who are so brave and so honest, as they’re forging new paths ahead in spite of so much difficulty in their past situations. Their enthusiasm and appreciation were really generous. I felt like I got more than I gave.”

Meanwhile, the Kroc Center recognizes Maley’s donation of his time and talent.

“If I didn’t know and work with Paul, I would still think his one-man show at The Salvation Army San Diego Ray and Joan Kroc Center, each December, was fantastic,” said Major Rob Birks, Kroc Center Corps Officer. “However, I do know and work with Paul, so I think one of the best humans I’ve worked with performs one of the best and most meaningful shows I’ve witnessed.”

Maley believes everyone can relate to “A Christmas Carol.”

“We’ve all had days where we felt like Ebenezer Scrooge, where life was bad or disappointing,” he said. “And yet, in so many different ways, God intervenes in that story, and brings about a change or at least an opportunity to change. This is a way for me to bring that hope to an audience—that regardless of circumstance there’s always an opportunity for things to turn around…and to see the hand of God coming into the story and taking it in a different direction.”

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