Photo by Brian NewelThe story of Scrooge, that penny-pinching misanthropist from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, has proven remarkably open to interpretation. We've seen female Scrooges, Scrooge as a network executive, Mr. Magoo as Scrooge. Now the Maverick Theater unveils a brand-new adaptation featuring Scrooge, the tool.
Scrooge (Mike Martin) has always been a tool. He makes the long-suffering Bob Crachit (Steven Lamprinos) work on Christmas day. He responds to charitable requests by asking if there are no more work houses. In this production, he even sleeps with his gold in what must be the world's swankiest Murphy bed. But for Dickens, Scrooge was also a tool for condemning the worst excesses of capitalism in the dark days of the Industrial Revolution; by the time he gets his spectral wake-up call, it's pretty clear he's just a stand-in for every coal baron, mill owner or money lender that ever made his fortune off the misery of others. It's his love of money that cuts him off from his humanity, not some innate evil or cartoonish villainy in his character; that's what makes his redemption possible. And that's why his story has staying power: Is letting the poor "die so as to decrease the surplus population" a relic of the Victorian era or the official policy of the Department of Health and Human Services in the age of welfare reform?
Unfortunately, director Brian Newell's production dilutes this theme with a cartoony set more reminiscent of Chuck Jones' classic version of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas than sooty old England. Worse, his adaptation bookends the standard text with new scenes that turn Scrooge into a tool for Jacob Marley's (Newell) redemption, which only serves to undercut everything that has happened before. Now the ultimate message seems to be: don't worry about changing your ways; you can always get off the hook by doing good deeds in the afterlife. In this version, heaven must be run by the Bush administration, where even confirmed scoundrels like Henry Kissinger and John Poindexter deserve a second chance.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL AT THE MAVERICK THEATER, THE BLOCK AT ORANGE, 20 THE CITY DR. W., ORANGE, (714) 634-1977. THURS., 8 P.M.; SAT., 5 P.M.; SUN., 3 P.M. THROUGH DEC. 22. $7-$12.