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Scrooges for all seasons

Making over A Christmas Carol

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'Tis the season when playhouses imitate that beloved relative who gives you the same present year after year. Theater audiences must peel back the gift wrap and feign an enthusiastic "Gee, it's A Christmas Carol. Again. How can I thank you?"

From roughly Thanksgiving through New Year's, theater's most overexposed skinflint puts a stranglehold on local playhouses. Ebenezer Scrooge takes the stage everywhere from the Alliance Theatre to the Shakespeare Tavern to Kudzu Playhouse, and even shows like Theatre in the Square's musical revue The 1940s Radio Hour feature Christmas Carol sketches.

Would that theaters could send Carol on a Christmas vacation this year. But Scrooge, canny businessman that he is, has virtually cornered the market on holiday shows. Carol proves financially crucial for many playhouses as the cash cow that helps bankroll less conventional fare. No doubt some families enjoy its familiarity and treat it like a Yuletide passion play, as Scrooge yet again makes his ritual journey from prickly misanthrope to warm 'n' fuzzy altruist.

Since Scrooge is here to stay, theaters should mix up the formula more, along the lines of ART Station's 2001 show A Christmas Carol -- Southern Style, which transplanted the action to Atlanta in 1890. This year, Georgia Ensemble Theatre's Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol presents the point of view of Scrooge's deceased partner, while PushPush Theater's backstage spoof Expecting Carol cracks jokes about a Jewish Scrooge. Fresh new angles can be a gift for bored artists and audiences alike, without alienating the holiday subscribers. With that in mind, here are some suggested timely updates for Carol:

A Christmas Feckin' Carol: The quaint 19th-century London of Charles Dickens gives way to the hip, edgy London of Sexy Beast and Guy Ritchie films. Profane Bob Cratchit and his hulking sidekick "Tiny" Tim pull a Christmas Eve heist on the high-security office of Scrooge & Marley. Audiences squirm when sadistic Scrooge tortures Cratchit while Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" plays in the background.

Trading Scrooges: Stuck in a stylistic rut, Scrooge gets surprise visitors who completely renovate his home and wardrobe, polishing his hardwood floor and swapping his half-glasses for tinted contact lenses. Scrooge learns that there's nothing wrong with him that a trip to Brooks Brothers and a day spa can't fix.

A Prescription Carol: Drug industry lobbyist Jacob Marley reviews Scrooge's life and reveals that the right medications could have solved his problems; Ritalin in his youth, Prozac in adulthood and Viagra in old age. The play ends with Scrooge calling out his window, "Boy! Is the corner pharmacy still open?"

The Blair Carol Project: Skeptical Scrooge swaps "Bah, humbug" for "I see dead people" when he and a team of nubile parapsychologists take on the vengeful apparitions that haunt his home. Thanks to the gruesome makeup effects, you won't be able to go to sleep Christmas Eve -- out of terror.

Ebenezell Miller: One fateful Christmas Eve, a respected senator from Georgia glimpses a terrifying future in which he's not Washington's center of attention. Shrugging away such old-fashioned habits as party loyalty, he undergoes a stunning political transformation and brings down the curtain by exclaiming, "God bless George W. Bush, everyone!"

A Christmas Porno: Tense, hostile Scrooge gets some sexual healing when a team of erotic therapists in loose, flowing garments visit him in his bed. This show for grown-up audiences gives new meaning to the name "Christmas Yet To Come."

Make room on the trophy case

Two new local theatrical awards will be instituted in 2005. This February will mark the first Suzi Bass Awards, in honor of beloved Atlanta actress Suzi Bass, who died of melanoma in May 2003. Executive committee Chairman Gene-Gabriel Moore says the awards will include four categories: Best Production, Best Male and Female Actor and the Suzi Bass Spirit Award for an individual's lifelong service to local theater.

While the Suzis will honor professional theaters in Atlanta, the Metro Atlanta Theaters Awards will recognize the smaller, nonprofit, nonprofessional community theaters in the area. Organized by local actor Russ Ivey, the "MATs" will bestow 24 awards on performers and backstage talent at a ceremony tentatively planned for summer 2006.

curt.holman@creativeloafing.com

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