‘It’s Christmas, Carol!,’ holiday romp at Oregon Shakespeare Festival
“It’s Christmas, Carol!” is a silly, fun holiday romp that turns the Charles Dickens’ classic, “A Christmas Carol” on its head.
This is the first time the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, has put on a holiday show. It is the Tony Award-winning festival’s first indoor play in 21 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The show, a world premiere, opened last Saturday at the Angus Bowmer Theatre and runs until Jan. 2.
“It’s Christmas, Carol!” is written by Mark Bedard, John Tufts, and Brent Hinkley and is directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh.
Bedard, Tufts, and Hinkley starred in two Marx Brothers plays at OSF, “Animal Crackers” and “The Cocoanuts,” that proved quite popular with audiences. The trio return here as Groucho (Bedard), Chico (Tufts) and Harpo (Hinkley), as they add a whole lot of comic craziness.
The jokes fly at a furious pace and are chock-full of sly references to film and popular culture, such as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Story” and “Die Hard.” They also reference the works of William Shakespeare that comes together in one of the funniest and most creative scenes of the play. The sequence jumps into one Shakespeare play after another at a rapid pace, from “Romeo and Juliet” to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to “Julius Caesar.”
Meet the cast
There are puns and dad jokes throughout. After all, there is a song in the show with the not too subtle name of “Happy Hollandaise.”
“It’s Christmas, Carol!” has the miserly Carol Scroogenhouse (Kate Mulligan) taking the place of Ebenezer Scrooge. She is a vain woman who will donate to those less fortunate only if there is fanfare and recognition. If there are no accolades to receive to help those less fortunate, forget about it.
She has a long-suffering servant, Barbara Crotchit (a versatile Lisa Birnbaum, who does fine work in a number of roles). Scroogenhouse treats Crotchit poorly and assumes she is single and Christian when she is in fact married and Jewish.
Scroogenhouse has a kind niece, Freddie, well played by Amy Lizardo, who wants to help those less fortunate.
She tries to explain to her aunt that she and her longtime roommate, also played by Birnbaum, are more than friends, which Scroogenhouse can’t quite grasp. When Freddie tells her she’s a lesbian, Scroogenhouse thinks she’s saying thespian.
Telling this tale to the audience is a woman only known as the Narrator (Safiya Fredericks).
The three ghosts of Christmas
Things go off the rails on a crazy train with the appearance of the three ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future since they are none other than Groucho, Chico and Harpo. The story gets taken over by these cut-ups as the Narrator tries her best to keep the telling of this tale on track, which does not go well.
Bedard, Tufts and Hinkley seem to be having a grand old time and are at ease in these iconic parts and make it their own. It is not easy to portray such well-known characters, and these three are up to the task.
Mulligan more than holds her own in the middle of this comic whirlwind and shows real comedic chops as Carol and is adept at finding laughs.
Fredericks goes toe-to-toe with the Marx Brothers as the flustered Narrator who eventually steps away from her role as an observer and gets right into the middle of the action. Fredericks also gets to display her vocal talents with a show-stopping song at the end.
Amarado Duran is pitch-perfect in a number of parts, including Don Cariño, an eccentric guest at a party with some outlandish things to say and a signature line of “I said too much.”
James Ryen is excellent in numerous roles, including Tom Crotchit, the son of Barbara Crotchit. In this version, he is a grown man who still lives at home much to his parent’s chagrin.
Lynette Rathnam does solid work in different roles, including Marley, Scroogenhouse’s old business partner. Instead of having to endure wearing chains for all of eternity, she has to wear the fur of angry ferrets. Benjamin Pelteson shows versatility by playing everything from David Crotchit, Barbara’s husband, a dinosaur dad, to Scroogenhouse’s old love, Dick Dickens McDiddykens.
When to go
While I enjoyed the production overall, I felt it was a little rough around the edges on opening night. Some of the jokes fell a bit flat in patches, and certain scenes seemed tacked on and did not serve much purpose. Since this is a premiere, I believe the play will improve with a few tweaks here and there.
All in all, “It’s Christmas, Carol!” is a crazy fruitcake of a production and a welcome romp. It is truly a product of the uncertain pandemic times we live in.
“It’s Christmas, Carol!,” runs Wednesday-Sunday until Jan. 2 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Tickets are $35-$75. Evening performances are at 7 p.m. Matinee performances are at 2 p.m., except on Dec. 5, 12, and 19, when it will be at 3 p.m.
To purchase tickets, go to https://bit.ly/3I500ck.
The OSF box office is open Wednesday-Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. and until 7 p.m. on days when an evening performance is scheduled. Its phone number is 1-800-219-8161.
The play runs for around 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
Below are safety measures being taken by OSF due to COVID-19:
- All audience members must present proof of vaccination or a negative result from a COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours (a photocopy or digital photo is fine) at the door for entrance into the theatre.
- Audience members 18 years and older must present a photo ID at the door.
- Seating will be assigned with social distancing.
- All audience members must wear masks.
Bill Choy covers sports and general news for the Siskiyou Daily News/Mount Shasta Herald/USA Today Network. Follow him on Twitter at@SDNBillChoy. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org. Support local journalism by subscribing today.