The first thing you need to know about this adaptation of A Christmas Carol (currently in the middle of a four-day run in North Hollywood) is that, unlike Blood Alley: Christmas, it is not an example of Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group doing a trash-take on the holiday season. Instead, the collaboration between ZJU Theatre and FON Productions is a faithful rendering of Dickens’ novelette, with a few bits from the 1951 film adaptation thrown in for spice.
The second thing you need to know is that this is the most rapid-fire adaptation of A Christmas Carol we have ever encountered. The cast fires their lines with a machine-gun speed worthy of a Howard Hawks film, making it impossible for audiences to mouth the familiar words like fans singing along with their favorite song. So you better sit up and pay attention because you’re definitely not going to slip into an ASMR trance induced by a relaxing recitation of a heart-warming tale.
In keeping with the style of ZJU productions, A Christmas Carol take place on an almost empty stage, focusing all attention on the performers. Avoiding the grumpy-old-man cliches associated with the roll, Sebasitan Munoz gives us a business-like Scrooge whose antipathy to Christmas derives from the way it distracts him from his work; though still a miser, he comes across more like a workaholic whose nose-to-the-grindstone prevents him from seeing the good things in life. Denise Devin has fun playing all three Christmas Spirits (particularly adding an unexpected bit of zing to Christmas Present). And Zombie Joe himself gives scene-stealing, enjoyably over-the-top rendition of Marley.
The rest of the cast ably does double and triple duty in various supporting roles. Singing numerous Christmas Carols throughout the show (with “Carol of the Bells” reprised several times in different arrangements), they also serve as the “Ghoul Chorus,” the most ZJU-like element in the show. With deathly pallor suggesting Ignorant and Want multiplied five-fold, they writhe on stage like a superorganism – sometimes simply setting the tone, other times bedeviling Scrooge during scenic transitions as if embodying the torment he feels while revisiting past sins. Standout voices belonged to Charlotte Cocker and Dario Good.
Despite the lack of scenery and props, the play does not feel like a staged reading. There is a whirling-dervish quality to the way the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present whisk Scrooge to the various scenes he views, and the exits and entrances of the various characters keeps things moving along. Really the only problem is the one that challenges any adaptation of A Christmas Carol: for a big chunk of the story, the main character is passive, watching action play out in front of him instead of doing anything himself. Film versions can use closeup reaction shots to show how these visions of past, present, and future are impacting Scrooge, but on stage it is difficult to do much beyond having him look on from the background.
Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable rendition of a Christmas classic, with the Ghoul Chorus providing just enough novelty to distinguish it from the others adaptations taking place around town. But the main thing to remember is: don’t fear that this is A Christmas Carol a la Urban Death. It’s Dickens, straight up, with a Ghoul Chorus Chaser.
A Christmas Carol (ZJU, 2023)
1 – Avoid
2 – Not All Bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See
Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group and FON Productions join forces to present a fast-paced adaptation that captures the essence of Dickens’ classic tale while adding just enough to make it stand out from the crowd.
Cast: Sebastian Munoz as Scrooge; Zombie Joe as Marley, Denise Devin as the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present & Future. Ghoul Chorus: Doug Clarke, Charlotte Cocker, Daria Good, Eric Gustavo, Michael Guthrie, Annegret Steioff, Winnie Wang.
Credits: Adapted by Denise Devin and V Cate from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Directed by Denise Devin. Produced by Zombie Joe. Live Music and Sailor Songs by Michael Guthrie Minty. Light-and-Sound Tech: Kyle Donovan. Run time: one hour.
A Christmas Carol continues at ZJU Theatre with performances on Saturday and Sunday at 3pm & 8:30pm. . The address is 4850 Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood. For ticket information visit: zombiejoes.com.