This review, like the show, is short and sweet: If you’ve ever seen anything at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theater—a place where you confront body horror and existential fear in a series of blackouts and disturbing, push-the-envelope vignettes and experimental theater—you’re totally unready for the great fun you’ll have with their production of Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol.” And if you’ve never seen anything with this troupe, you’ll have a lovely time anyway. This reviewer has never seen a production of the holiday classic that was more heartfelt and immediate, and that’s the shock of the show—you come to the theater expecting to see things undermined with huge irreverence, and then it turns out that you’re the one who’s undermined by a wave of super-reverence that’s never cloying or self-mocking, but instead is sweet and meaningful, with just the right touch of humor. Director Denise Devins’ staging of the venerable story isn’t a rote re-telling but a reawakening—for once, you’re watching actors who get why this tale means something to you and me, right here and right now. It’s a fast-paced one-act that blazes through the narrative in just under an hour, but it gets things right.
It would be impossible to give credit to everyone in the show for their fine work (and it is fine work from all the members of the large ensemble), but obvious standouts are Sebastian Munoz as a slightly George C. Scott-like Scrooge, Jason Britt’s curiously Mervyn Johns-like Bob Cratchit, Devin herself in a delightful turn as all three Christmas Ghosts and Kelly Rhone and Gloria Galvan as the two Charity Gentlemen. A.J. Sclafani’s version of Scrooge’s nephew Fred is another highlight, too. The real litmus test of any production of this story is, of course, Tiny Tim. There’s a right way and a wrong way to say, “God bless us, every one.” Tiny Tim can either be an empty cipher that the audience pours their sentiment into, or a sickeningly cute little moppet that makes you long for his chair by the fire to be empty, or—a sympathetic character unto himself, neither too sweet nor too blank. And that’s what Courtney Drumm gives with her performance, which is understated but key to embodying the point of the story. (As Dickens meant, of course.)
Some will argue that reviewing a production of A Christmas Carol on Creepy LA is a bad fit for the blog, but hey, it’s got four ghosts, the demons Want and Ignorance, a graveyard, an undertaker… and this production opens with a Steampunk Chorus of what seem suspiciously like Zombie Joe’s normal troupe of zombies. So that makes it creepy enough as far as this critic is concerned, and hey, as the song says, it’s part of a tradition of “…scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.” So go see A Christmas Carol at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theater (Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. and Sundays at 7:00 p.m.) and have a happy holiday season and a spectacular new year.