Part II – The Play’s the Thing (wherein we’ll catch the conscience of the Scrooge?)
This is a very small venue; my guess would be a rehearsal hall under normal circumstances. Given that this performance was
sold out, and I think an extra chair had to be squeezed in, I would say it held approximately thirty people. There are a
few rows of straight backed metal chairs, and a small stage at the front of the room.
On one side of the stage is a desk with a laptop computer, a phone and other business paraphernalia. On the other side is
a bed, and a fancy phone at the bedside. To the back of the stage is a table covered with a red cloth with fake fur trim.
There are some props on the table. And, at the back of the stage, there is a movie screen, and clips from Christmas movies
are showing as the audience settles in.
And so the familiar story begins. The basic tale is familiar to everyone, but in Peter Mac’s skillfully updated and
revised version Ebba Neeza Scrooge is a software magnate who never met a penny she couldn’t pinch. (Maybe the references
are too NY-centric, but think Leona Helmsley meets Donald Trump meets a Gilded age Robber Baron). It is the day before Christmas
and she has laid off staff – including one she suddenly needed to contact, one Paul Stoddard. Bobbi Cratchett, her
eternally cheerful assistant, is ordered to come in the next day, but after a struggle Scrooge relents and gives her Christmas
day off – provided she is in at 7 the next morning. (In the first of a series of well placed, throwaway in jokes, a
co worker of Bobbi’s refers to Ebba as an “evil witch” – which had the audience giggling.)
In the next scene Ebba is home, and we have the sudden arrival of the ghost of Jaque Marlee (foreshadowed by a magazine article
Cratchett shows us in the previous scene, about the anniversary of the death of the designer, apparently Scrooge’s only
friend) to warn her of her impending fate. The appearance of the ghost is nicely handled, using the movie screen we saw earlier
to set up the ghostly appearance before Marlee’s actual appearance. This scene is not the unrelieved harbinger of doom
we see in other versions, but is liberally salted with snarky humor. He is an over the top fashion designer and is given
some wonderful wisecracks. (There is a double in-joke here as fashion critic Leon Hall plays the role, lampooning an over
the top, self-absorbed prima donna fashion designer with great glee.)
The ghost of Christmas past arrives, and we meet Ebba as a young girl, exiled to boarding school (again the rear screen is
used to flash back to her girlhood, showing, amongst other things that the school she attended was Seaview Terrace –
or Collinwood.). We see her difficult, strained childhood, estranged from everyone but her beloved younger sister. We then
rejoin her on her first job, for her beloved and kind boss Fezziwig, who treated the young girl like one of the family, as
well as mentoring and fast tracking her through her career. His reward for this is to have her play dirty politics and unseat
him because he won’t go with her ideas about where the company should go. He’s dead within a year of the board
giving her his job. We see her caring for her younger sister through an unplanned pregnancy, which ultimately kills her sister
despite the intervention of Dr. Woodard. Ebba helps raise the nephew, but becomes more and more distant from him over time.
We see Ebba herself, married -- but even more married to her career -- missing family occasions, sacrificing everything to
getting ahead. And when her husband goes on an errand while waiting for her to finish a business call so they can go to a
family event, and is killed as a result of doing a good deed, you see the final blow that sealed her off from the human race,
and from any feeling for others.
Ebba is still reeling from reliving these events when the ghost of Christmas Present comes for her. She sees the Cratchett
home, and Tiny Tim, who, due to a bad transfusion as a baby, is now living with HIV -- and all the problems, issues and prejudices
that go along with it – in the same sweet, cheerful uncomplaining fashion as the original Tiny Tim. We learn of Bobbi’s
sacrifices to care for the boy properly when she has very poor insurance to depend on, and loses pay when taking time off
to care for him when he’s ill. Then there is a segue to Ebba’s nephew (Peter Mac) and his male partner, who along
with some friends of theirs, are trying to start a charity to help kids with AIDS in addition to other problems get things
they need (an excellent use of the original plotline to weave in Help is on the Way Today and let the audience learn more
about it and its work.). The example used in the play was one that Peter Mac said later during the Q & A was a real life case:
two youngsters with both AIDS and MS, who needed motorized wheelchairs and had outgrown theirs, but were roadblocked in getting
new ones – Medicaid had “LOST” the paperwork multiple times.
The clock tolls again, and heralds the visit of the Ghost of Christmas yet to come. This spirit, of course, comes in the
guise of the angel of death, showing Ebba her housekeeper, Hoffman, selling off Ebba’s mother’s candlesticks,
and some Egyptian cotton sheets. Ebba realizes she is dead, and her employees couldn’t wait to pillage her belongings.
But there is another death, as Ebba learns, as she sees Bobbi giving the eulogy for Tiny Tim. (There was no program for this
play to praise the actress by name, but she did an INCREDIBLE job of playing the grief of a mother burying a child far too
soon. Sadly, my opinion of the performance is based on having seen the real thing: a few years ago my best friend, in her
early 40s, died suddenly, and I will never forget how her mother was at the funeral. The actress who played Bobbi conveyed
the same sense of stunned, unbearable grief, heartrending to an observer. It also must be noted that, unlike on TV and in
the movies, an actor on a stage less than a foot from the audience has limited ability to depend on artifice and fakery to
convey these emotions – the audience cannot willingly suspend belief unless they BELIEVE the actor on that stage is
really living and feeling the emotions they portray.)
Ebba then wakes, in her own bed, and finds out from Hoffman, that she hasn’t missed it after all -- the spirits, as
promised, did it all in one night. Overcome with glee, she sends Hoffman to order a huge food basket for the Cratchetts from
Whole Foods, and has it delivered anonymously.
Ebba is now in the office, the morning of the day after Christmas. Working away as usual, at the time she told Bobbi to report,
7AM, she is smiling with glee as 7AM passes, and more time passes -- and still no Bobbi. Bobbi finally slinks through the
door, praying she won’t be noticed – and is caught red. Ebba reads her the riot act in her old fashion as Bobbi
cringes, then Ebba springs her Christmas surprise – full benefits and a promotion. The final scene shows Ebba going
to her nephew’s house and meeting his partner and their friends – and presenting them with a big check for Help
is on the Way today.
This is a play that centers on one character, so the casting of that one character is critical. Lara Parker not only doesn’t
disappoint, she creates stage magic. I’ve seen her in a few movies and TV shows, but like the rest of the world, the
bulk of my impression of her acting comes from Angelique. She creates a believable Ebba Scrooge quite distinct and apart
from the Angelique Bouchard with whom she is so strongly identified, and does so quite skillfully. One thing I particularly
noticed was how she reacted and watched when her character WASN’T the focal point of the action. She was fully in the
action of the play at all times, reasoning and thinking as the character would about what was being seen and experienced,
then conveying this to the audience. I would gladly go to see her in any play again, certain of seeing an excellent performance.
Part Three: The Audience Speaks Back
Help is On the Way Today: As mentioned above, these performances were a fundraiser for this organization, with the services
of all the actors donated. But, although the performances are over, the need still remains. Speaking as someone who works
for a 150 year old child welfare organization, I assure you that there’re always far more kids with a desperate and
legitimate need than there is money to help them. Government grants, even when available, can’t be stretched far enough.
So, I’m sure this organization would love to hear from you, and get donations to help more kids at this holiday season.
To find out more about this worthy charity, please check out their webpage:
Help is on the Way Today