Joe Godfrey's play A Queer Carol is the first openly gay version of Charles Dickens' classic Christmas story (although there's no denying the gay interest in Ebbie, the 1995 TV movie with Susan Lucci as a female Scrooge).
Godfrey's shticky script, having a tiresome production at Theatre Decatur, reimagines Scrooge and nearly all of the supporting characters as gay people living in contemporary New York. "Ben" Scrooge (Charles Green) works as a fabric-obsessed Manhattan designer and tyrannizes Bob Cratchit (Josh Caray), whose partner Tim (Travis Young) lives with HIV. Naturally, the miser won't provide his employee with health benefits. The gimmick sets up an endless array of weak jokes about "fruitcakes" and even a Bette Davis holiday movie, All About Christmas Eve.
Carol's queer interpretation provides one intriguing twist, revealing that the deceased "Jake" Marley (Mark S. King) wasn't just Scrooge's former business partner, but his ex-lover. Usually the character relationships in A Christmas Carol are thin, one-dimensional things, but the gay version proves surprisingly complex. In flashback, we see Marley encourage young Ben (also played by Travis Young) to be sexually true to himself while tempting him to mercenary business practices. Scrooge reveals a knack for ruthlessness, becoming the stronger partner while Jake's hedonistic lifestyle undoes him.
In addition to the subtleties in King's and Young's work, A Queer Carol features broad but tolerable portrayals of the ghosts, with Christmas Past (Amanda Renee Parker) imitating a famous 1950s starlet and Christmas Present (W. Derek Ratliff) turning out to be a talkative drag queen. The show's condescending ethnic stereotypes aren't as easy to enjoy.
It makes sense for Scrooge to be a self-loathing gay man from what you could call the Boys in the Band generation, but Green's schoolmarmish performance doesn't fit the character as written. He's supposed to be a successful designer who works with celebrities like Liza Minnelli, but seems more like the owner of a struggling small-town antique shop, an impression supported by the shabbiness of the low-budget set. Theatre Decatur's A Queer Carol proves more thoughtful than you may expect, but never becomes remotely fabulous.
A Queer Carol. Through Dec. 22. $15-$18. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. Theatre Decatur, 430 W. Trinity Place. 404-373-3904. www.theatredecatur.com.