Force of Nature Productions’ latest effort is more soap opera than Dickens, but there’s nothing wrong with that. A Telenovela Christmas Carol is an adept pastiche of the telenovela format, with broad characters and melodramatic story elements that are easy to enjoy. In this version, patriarch Pedro Azucar (director and co-writer Sebasitan Munoz) is – metaphorically – haunted by regrets about the woman whose love he lost decades ago when he focused too much of his time and energy on his family’s name-brand of tequila. Like Scrooge, Azucar is a grumpy, unhappy man more concerned with business than mankind – though in this case, the emphasis is more on neglect of his family, since unlike Scrooge, Azucar has an extended family: his lost love Margarita went on to marry his best friend and future competitor; the situation is further complicated by relationships between some of the children, creating a very messy situation worthy of a long-form story format.
The result is a bit like dropping in on an on-going soap opera that’s based a special seasonal episode on A Christmas Carol. Part of the fun is watching for ways in which the cast of soap opera characters are shoehorned into the roles of Dickens’ classic. For example, Azucar is initially visited not by a former business partner named Marley but by the late wife he killed ten years ago – who is outraged to find him mourning not her but Margarita!
The main challenge of an undertaking like A Telenovela Christmas Carol is that the tongue-in-cheek approach threatens to undermine Dickens’ heartfelt story of redemption. The play initially seems likely to succumb to this challenge: after having so much fun at Azucar’s expense, it’s a little hard to take his plight seriously (especially after the casual jokey references to his killing his wife years ago). Fortunately, the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Future is appropriately ominous, the traditional black-robed figure revealing a calacas mask in keeping with the Latin flavor of the show; the scene works on an appropriately eerie level as Azucar sees his future death, which works as straight drama – just long enough to make its point before the play returns to the comedy with the happy ending (which, we are assured, will last only until “the next serial”).
Munoz boisterously embodies the lead role. The supporting cast is also strong, though the casting of females in male roles sometimes is a bit confusing (we keep expecting them to pull off the phony mustaches, and say “I’m really….”). Fortunately, the energetic staging keeps the story moving along quickly enough so that we don’t have too much time to ponder these little problems; the transitions between past, present, and future are deftly handled by the simple expedient of having each Christmas Spirit forcibly escort Azucar on quick exits and entrances from the stage. The small set is very well realized, serving multiple functions (business office, cafe, etc) credibly and colorfully. The proceedings are enlivened with some enthusiastic musical numbers (note: arrive early to hear Christmas carols sung before the play opens).
While it may not be precisely Dickensian in flavor, the Latin gusto of A Telenovela Christmas Carol is quite palatable for those enjoy a little spiciness with their Christmas pudding.
A Telenovela Christmas Carol concludes its run at the Archway Studio Theatre this weekend with performances at 8pm on Saturday and 2pm on Sunday. The address is 10509 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood, CA 91601. Get more info at Force of Nature’s official website.