REVIEW: DTC’s feminist ‘Christmas Carol’

sally-nystuen-vahle-as-scrooge-photo-by-karen-almond

Sally Nystuen Vahle as Scrooge (Photo by Karen Almond)

Ebenezer Scrooge’s name immediately conjures a dour, angular, mean physicality. You can see his pointy chin, his narrow, flinty eyes, his thin-lipped scowl.

Only the Scrooge at the Wyly Theatre now, courtesy of Dallas Theater Center‘s annual production of A Christmas Carol, isn’t a he at all, but a she. It’s not just gender-blind casting: DTC has had women play Jacob Marley before, as well as a host of the Ghosts of Christmases, and Tiny Tim is often played by a little girl. No, this Ebenezer definitely has two X chromosomes — “Miss Scrooge,” her terrified workers call her. He last surviving relative isn’t Nephew Fred, but Niece Lucy; even the Fezziwigs appear to be a partnership.

Hey, Hillary mightn’t’ve risen to the top, but these revisionist Dickens characters have.

And it definitely adds a new layer to the psychology of Scrooge.

How he got to think of holidays as a humbug has never fully wrung true. Yes, young Scrooge was abandoned by a remote dad, and he lost his devoted sister Fanny; even his fiancee abandoned him. But only after money had driven him cold. His miserliness drove people away, not the other way around.

But now, we see Miss Scrooge as the embodimentliz-mikel-gabrielle-reyes-ace-anderson-chamblee-ferguson-photo-by-karen-almond of The Bitch Conundrum: A powerful man is seen as decisive; a powerful woman as a bitch. Breaking that glass ceiling was sure to imbed some shards.

It’s a lovely little twist on the familiar tale, given a lot of life by Sally Nystuen Vahle as the top-hatted Ebby with perpetual smirk. Kevin Moriarty has updated his adaptation, jointly presenting the dual crises of the Industrial Revolution and the Sexual Revolution — Ebenezer Steinem, by way of The Jungle. The cold, heartless weight of the age linger more than even prior versions of this production, and not always in a good way. Bob Cratchit (here more foreman than bookkeeper, played by Alex Organ) all but disappears into the background of steam engines and furnaces; during the opening scenes, you even lose some dialogue to all the busy-ness on the stage.

But it does provide a striking counterpoint when the set begins to twinkle in colored lights and smiling harmonies as Miss Scrooge’s heart melts away. I see it every year, and every year it gets to me.

Vahle is terrific, of course, by so in Chamblee Ferguson, taking on a variety of small roles (Scrooge’s valet, Mr. Fezziwig, etc.) and proving how brilliant character work doesn’t depend on lots of lines, but rather inventive choices. He, like this version of the show itself, proves that there’s always room to be surprised.

At the Wyly Theatre through Dec. 28.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

DTC collects more than $138K for NTFB

NTFB Check Presentation - Photo by Dana Driensky (2)

DTC staff presenting check to the NTFB, where many staffers volunteered

For the eighth year, the Dallas Theater Center has taken up donations for the North Texas Food Bank during every performance of his annual holiday show A Christmas Carol. This year’s run of the show netted $138,020.69 for the food pantry, including a $57,000 block donation from an anonymous donor. That pays for nearly half a million meals for those with food insecurity across the Metroplex.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

DTC donates more than $63K to NTFB

For the fifth year, the Dallas Theater Center was not a Scrooge during its production of A Christmas Carol, raising $63,186.72 from patron donations to donate to the North Texas Food Bank. (That number reflects amounts donated after the check presentation above.) That raises the total amount donated by audiences to nearly a quarter of a million dollars. Every dollar provides about three meals to a North Texan in need. Audiences also donated about 568 pounds of non-perishable food items.

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

It’s a little of the calm before the storm.

Few big movies are opening this weekend. That’s because starting next week through Christmas, there will be roughly 2 billion new films vying for your attention (give or take) — many with gay content or appeal: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Hyde Park on Hudson, Any Day Now, The Guilt Trip, This Is 40, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Jack Reacher and Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Apart. Try catching up on gooduns like SkyfallHitchock and The Sessions before the onslaught. (In the Dec. 21 edition of Dallas Voice, we’ll have a complete rundown of holiday movies as part of our Hollywood Issue.)

‘Til then, catch up on theater: Jekyll & Hyde has been rejiggered to appeal to a demographic that is more about The Voice and The X Factor that Patti and Babs, but Deborah Cox and Constantine Maroulis, pictured, sure know how to sing. So does Janis Ian, who takes over the smaller Hamon Hall venue at the Winspear on Saturday.

For Christmas themed shows, you have a choice between two local Nutty Award nominees — Texas Ballet Theater’s The Nutcracker and MBS’s Bur-Less-Q Nutcracker — as well as DTC’s annual Christmas Carol — which, once again, delivers. And the Turtle Creek Chorale offers six more opportunities to see them perform — their Comfort & Joy show at the Meyerson (and again in McKinney) this week, then the campy Naughty & Nice show the following week, leading right up to Christmas Eve.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones