“A Caribbean Christmas Carol,” now onstage at the Black Spectrum Theatre, is one of those many, many takes on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” This time it’s set in some unnamed Caribbean island and the transposition is delightful.
Director and writer Jacqueline Wade makes the familiar story come to life with nothing more than video projections of palmy Caribbean beaches and festivals, and two chairs positioned stage left and stage right, one to represent Scrooge’s office and the other his duppy-haunted home. Yes, the ghosts are called “duppies” here, and many of the characters speak various types of patois. These include Scrooge’s fearful and impoverished assistant Nu Nu, standing in for Bob Cratchit, and the Afro-Cuban laborers whose land Mr. Scrooge stole and whose lives on “his” mountain have become intolerable. Yes, the political satire stings as much now as it did then.
Besides the projections, Wade also tells us that we’re in a place — at least geographically — very distant from Charles Dickens’ cold, snowy and gray London. Scrooge’s nephew celebrates Christmas with a fish fry and a session of limbo dancing. Women in bright, floral-print costumes go around caroling and collecting alms for the poor, while scantily clad girls dance in the street. As a matter of fact, the Duppy of Christmas Present is a cheerful and sinuous fan dancer. The same woman, interestingly, plays the silent and spooky Duppy of Christmas to Come.
Though the actors’ names are listed in the program, the roles they play aren’t, but each of them was memorable. With the exception of the young man who played the old, crabbed, mean-spirited Scrooge, everyone had multiple roles. One standout was the actress who played Scrooge’s deceased business partner, renamed here as Barbara Marley. She not only has to wear her wretched chains for eternity, but has to sing Bob Marley’s “One Love” every few minutes as well, something that causes her exquisite agony. The actress who plays the flower child Duppy of Christmas Past, who sweeps Scrooge along to the music of the Mamas and the Papas, also plays Nu Nu’s ailing daughter, a Tiny Tim stand-in.
Sick with a cancer caused by the pollutants belched by Scrooge’s factories, the old miser sees the stricken girl denied health care because her mother is paid too little to afford it. He still has the decency to be horrified by her plight, as well as the possible plight of his Afro-Cuban workers.
“A Caribbean Christmas Carol” succeeds on many levels, as a political satire, as a morality tale and as a celebration of the season and of Caribbean life. By the way, praise goes to actors Shaunta Macklin, Mario Haynes, Dawn Speaks, Madelin Quezada, Myriam Moss, Jason Blake, Kuji Kelly and lighting designer Andrea Kung. Wade also deserves props for her often innovative direction as well. It’s a fun show that’s great for the whole family. It’ll be at the Black Spectrum till Dec. 17.
If You Go
A Caribbean Christmas Carol
Dec. 17 at 8 p.m.
Black Spectrum Theatre
Inside Roy Wilkins Park, entrance at Baisely Blvd. and 177th Street
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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