One of the things I dislike about Christmas is the inevitable onslaught of bad entertainment. Of course, there are a few seasonal classics that I will never grow tired of watching. But I would rather stick my tongue to a frozen flagpole than have to endure such garbage as Christmas With the Kranks or Surviving Christmas. Suffice it to say, I was a bit skeptical heading into A Very Nosedive Christmas Carol. But as I entered the Theater Under St. Mark's, the sight of an attractive woman in leather pants serving Jack Daniel's eggnog lifted my jaded spirits a bit, and gave rise to the hope that this show might separate itself from the rest of the holiday fare.
Writer James Comtois's version of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol opens on the ghost of Jacob Marley lamenting his fate at having to teach Scrooge the same lesson, year after year, and of having to tell the same story to audiences year after year.
Throughout the play, Marley will continue his complaining, and his co-workers, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, will join in to gripe about their thankless and endless task of bringing annual enlightenment to one bitter, cranky old man. They even go so far as to contemplate smothering old Ebenezer to death, holding a pillow just inches above the slumbering Scrooge's face before thinking better of it. The ghosts decide to find other ways to break the tedium, keeping themselves amused by smoking cigars, drinking coffee, and ad-libbing lines from Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ozymandias while they lead Scrooge through all of his life's formative moments.
The production is about as bare-bones as a production can be. A foldaway bed, a table, a coffeemaker, a window, and a clock on the wall are the only props to grace the stage. But lighting designer Chris Daly does a great job in providing a unique atmosphere for each scene. The talented actors also invest themselves fully in their characters and their lines, enticing the audience to leave the Theater Under St. Mark's and travel with them to Dickens's London. Their fervor makes it easy to indulge this fantasy.
Much creativity is used to fill out the cast as well. Many parts are played by actors pulling double and triple duty. This gives the cast the opportunity to really ham it up, as men play women, women play men, and adults play children, walking around in a prolonged squat because, well, children are shorter than adults, I guess.
The carolers who anger Scrooge with their good tidings are homemade, cardboard-cutout versions of Kenny and Cartman from the TV show South Park. Tiny Tim is a monkey hand puppet.
With all these ridiculous characters, it seems as though the play might dissolve into absolute chaos. But it doesn't, with Patrick Shearer's downright nasty portrayal of Scrooge providing the serious edge the play needs to succeed. Shearer commands the stage with his imposing presence. At the performance I saw, he slammed the window shut on the aforementioned carolers, only to have the window fall off the wall onto the ground. Not missing a beat, he slammed the downed window shut again and gave it a kick for good measure. His is truly the best performance I have seen on off-off Broadway all year.
Christopher Yustin also stands out as the jaded Jacob Marley. He puts the audience in the mood for fun by eliciting laughter from the get-go with the hilarious and nuanced delivery of his opening monologue.
The performance of A Very Nosedive Christmas Carol that I saw was not perfect. A few lines were flubbed. There were a couple of problems with the props. And the noise from a nearby restaurant could be heard constantly. But I had a hard time getting caught up in the negatives, as I was laughing for the better part of the 75-minute show.
Smash Mouth's version of War's "Why Can't We Be Friends?" and Joey Ramone's take on the George Weiss/Bob Thiele standard "What a Wonderful World" served as musical interludes between scenes. I think Nose Dive Productions approached this project as a musician would approach a cover song, changing it around a little bit. They also had a lot of fun, and they let their audiences have the same.