This multi-culti Christmas Carol modernizes the holiday classic, but its spirit and message haven’t changed
Strip away its waxy buildup of Victorian ornament, and A Christmas Carol’s story — a jerk redeemed — is timeless. Which means, in theory, that it should work in any time. However sentimental we get about them, the top hats, frock coats, and elevated Patrick Stewart oration aren’t necessary to its essence.
Enter Nevada Conservatory Theatre and director Christopher Edwards, who will test that theory with this month’s production of an upcycled version of the old Dickens chestnut. “It’s an experiment,” he allows. Here’s how:
The characters: The same, but different. The cast is multicultural, multiethnic. The Cratchit family, for example, will have Hispanic accents, with Spanglish spoken — “and possibly some foster children,” Edwards says.
The setting: “It’s set in the now,” he says, in an unnamed industrial megalopolis. “It could Lagos, it could be Rio, it could be New York, it could be Milan, it could be Beijing.” Visually, it will be a pomo pastiche of favela, inner city, Fifth Avenue. Metaphorically, it’ll represent a soul-chewing, capitalist modernity.
The ghosts: Same functions, different vectors. Christmas Past will represent Colonial America. Christmas Present: “Someone who is of African descent.” Christmas Yet to Come will be postapocalyptic — less Grim Reaper and more Mad Max.
The language: Expect the fusty Dickensisms to be translated into American idiom: Instead of Do you know if they’ve sold the prize turkey in the poulterer’s window? Scrooge might instead ask the urchin, Do they still have the big turkey at Whole Foods? The verbal tailoring was still going on at press time.
The staging: Two words: mariachi music.
The social context: Here’s where we mention Trump, but only in passing: “I think it’s bigger than that,” Edwards says of the play’s topical overtones — anxieties about immigration, angst toward those unlike us, dueling “Lives Matter” movements. Disconnection. He describes Scrooge as a figure who’s deliberately cut himself off from humanity, “this man who has chosen to live his life with greed, hate, avarice, and judgment of The Other in his heart.” (You can add the MAGA cap in your imagination.) “I think Scrooge is a perfect archetype for disassociation,” he says. “I think the country feels like it’s in a place of disassociation.”
For all the changes, this still sounds like a production Dickens would recognize. The basic story isn’t changing, nor its relevance.
“We can walk across Maryland Parkway and be reminded of the things A Christmas Carol is talking about,” Edwards says. “Someone’s going to come up to you and ask if you have extra change, and it’s so easy to put blinders on and pretend it doesn’t exist.
“A Christmas Carol is one of those stories that reminds us to come back to our center, which is about our humanity, about empathy — at its core, that’s what’s going on.”
A Christmas Carol, Dec. 1-17, UNLV’s Judy Bayley Theatre, $27.50-$33, 702-895-ARTS, unlv.edu/nct