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updated: 12/1/2010 10:48 PM

Local theaters re-imagine 'A Christmas Carol'

From Klingons to a crabby Mrs. Cratchit, local theaters re-imagine 'A Christmas Carol'

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  • Chicago actor John Judd will play Scrooge for the first time in the Goodman Theatre's production of "A Christmas Carol."

      Chicago actor John Judd will play Scrooge for the first time in the Goodman Theatre's production of "A Christmas Carol."
    Courtesy of Goodman Theatre

  • Chicago actor John Judd will play Scrooge for the first time in the Goodman Theatre's production of "A Christmas Carol."

      Chicago actor John Judd will play Scrooge for the first time in the Goodman Theatre's production of "A Christmas Carol."
    Courtesy of Goodman Theatre

  • Geoffrey Maher, left, plays the ghost of Jacob Marley and Marc Jolley plays Santa in "Marley's Ghost" from the Palatine-based Vex Theatre Company. The show is part of the company's "Twist-a-Carol" production in Elgin.

      Geoffrey Maher, left, plays the ghost of Jacob Marley and Marc Jolley plays Santa in "Marley's Ghost" from the Palatine-based Vex Theatre Company. The show is part of the company's "Twist-a-Carol" production in Elgin.
    Courtesy of Vex Theatre Company

  • Steve Hickson, left, Samantha Garcia and Tina Haglund star in "Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Binge," a holiday satire based on characters from "A Christmas Carol," being staged by Chicago's A Reasonable Facsimile Theatre Company.

      Steve Hickson, left, Samantha Garcia and Tina Haglund star in "Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Binge," a holiday satire based on characters from "A Christmas Carol," being staged by Chicago's A Reasonable Facsimile Theatre Company.
    Courtesy of A Reasonable Facsimile Theatre Company

  • Scrooge talks with the Ghost of Christmas Present in the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's production of "A Christmas Carol."

      Scrooge talks with the Ghost of Christmas Present in the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's production of "A Christmas Carol."
    Courtesy of the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

  • Don't know Klingon? Don't worry. Commedia Beauregard's "A Klingon Christmas Carol" will include English supertitles.

      Don't know Klingon? Don't worry. Commedia Beauregard's "A Klingon Christmas Carol" will include English supertitles.
    Courtesy of Commedia Beauregard

 
 

So just how many ways are there to say "Bah, humbug!" and "God bless us, every one," anyway?

A lot, it turns out.

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Every year at this time, multiple stage adaptations of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" pop up all over the city and suburbs. Some of them, like the annual production at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, treat the material faithfully.

Others ... well, they take a few liberties.

This year, for instance, Chicago-area residents will be able to see "A Klingon Christmas Carol," in which the entire story is told by Klingons in the Klingon language. (For the uninitiated, Klingons are warrior aliens from the "Star Trek" universe.)

There's also "Turn of the Scrooge," an Elgin production from the Palatine-based Vex Theatre Company, in which the basic arc of the original story is reversed so that a happy, joyous Scrooge becomes disillusioned with Christmas when he confronts the rampant consumerism behind the holiday.

The examples go on. So what makes this story about the redemption of a cold, bitter, Christmas-hating miser so powerful?

"I think the basic story endures because it's uplifting, first of all, and timeless," said Laura Pulio Colbert, a theater professor at Harper College in Palatine. "Ebenezer Scrooge gets a chance to see what his life could be like, and a chance to change his future. Who wouldn't love that?"

One of the plays Colbert directed at Harper was "Inspecting Carol," about a theater company trying to mount an adaptation of "A Christmas Carol." She said the continued existence of all the parodies and re-imaginings is a sign of just how deeply rooted the Scrooge story is in our culture.

"Those kinds of reinterpretations wouldn't work if the 'Christmas Carol' story didn't resonate with meaning the way it does," she said.

Christopher Kidder, director of "A Klingon Christmas Carol" at Chicago's Greenhouse Theater Center, agrees.

"It's well-known," he said. "It's easier to play with things that are part of the social fabric of our society."

The idea of a Klingon "Carol" started in Minnesota as a joke, one of many suggestions tossed out for a fundraiser. But Kidder and co-author Sasha Walloch ran with it and had the end result translated by members of an international Klingon fan club. Commedia Beauregard, a St. Paul theater company, has been doing the show in the Twin Cities for four years. This year marks its Chicago debut.

The entire show save for some English from a Vulcan narrator is performed in the Klingon language, with English supertitles. Thus, audiences get "baQa'" in lieu of "bah humbug."

Fight scenes were added, as befitting a warrior culture. And in the end, Scrooge's epiphany has to do with courage and honor, rather than kindness and compassion.

"We had to adjust to the warrior code ... because Klingons wouldn't care one way or another if Scrooge was charitable and caring," Kidder said.

In the suburbs, Vex Theatre Company is performing a collection of holiday-themed songs, skits and plays known collectively as "Twist-a-Carol" this weekend in Elgin. (The show is recommend for teens and older.)

"Twist-a-Carol" will include "Marley's Ghost" by Don Nigro an irreverent look at the afterlife of Scrooge's former partner along with "Turn of the Scrooge," a Vex Theatre original.

In "Turn," Scrooge is happy and fulfilled at the beginning of the play, then he's visited by three modern spirits the ghosts of Christmas Insincerity, Christmas Obligation and Christmas Excess and he becomes bitter and disillusioned with the whole holiday.

"It's our way of taking a dig at the consumerism that's so much a part of modern Christmases," said Cathleen Ann, a Palatine resident and co-founder of Vex. "But it's not overly serious. It's really funny, and I think people will have a great time."

An even snarkier take on the "Christmas Carol" story will come from Chicago's A Reasonable Facsimile Theatre Company, which is producing Christopher Durang's "Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge" this season.

The play imagines the wife of Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's faithful assistant in "A Christmas Carol," as an overworked and angry woman who's fed up with her husband's do-goodery and the drudgery of 19th-century English life.

The play also riffs on other hallmarks of holiday pop culture, including the film "It's a Wonderful Life."

"We've done other Durang plays before, and our director is just nuts about Christmas, so this seemed like a perfect fit," said Steve Hickson, who plays the role of Scrooge. "People can expect plenty of ribald, nasty Christmas fun."

Hickson said the production isn't intended to make fun of the original Dickens story.

"The original is a classic, and deservedly so. But it's become so ingrained in our minds that it's a great springboard for exploring other sides to the holiday season," he said.

Those who prefer a more faithful interpretation of "A Christmas Carol" needn't worry. The Goodman Theatre in Chicago is offering its 33rd annual "Carol" production, which will feature the talents of veteran Chicago actor John Judd in the Scrooge role for the first time. A number of suburban actors are in the cast this year as well, including Christine Sherrill of St. Charles as Mrs. Cratchit; Cameron Conforti of South Elgin as Tiny Tim; and Grant Mitchell of Elmhurst and Emma Gordon of Clarendon Hills as members of the Cratchit family.

The production is directed by William Brown, who staged it the past four years.

"A Christmas Carol" is also being produced at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights this holiday season. Crystal Lake resident Stephen Connell, who plays Scrooge, leads a cast filled with suburban residents in this all-ages production.

As long as people celebrate the holiday season, there will be all manner of "A Christmas Carol" adaptations to enjoy, said Harper College's Colbert.

"I don't see this tradition ever going away," she said. "The story is just too wrapped up in the season. For some, it's as much a part of it as shopping, which is saying something."

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