Scrooge and Marley were lovers. The Ghost of Christmas Present is a drag queen. And Tiny Tim's illness turns out to be AIDS?
Such is the story of A Queer Carol, a retelling of A Christmas Carol by StageQ at the Bartell Community Theatre. It opens Friday, Dec. 5.
Changing classic stories for modern times is not new. Before Orson Welles went into movies, he rocked 1930s Broadway by setting Shakespeare's Macbeth in Haiti and Julius Caesar in Nazi Germany.
Similarly, director Scott Albert Bennett is going beyond the script. "The playwright said you can make it local, so I have," he says.
A Queer Carol, by Joe Godfrey, opened in Buffalo, N.Y. in 1999. Its Manhattan premiere was in 2001. The play has been taken up nationwide by troupes similar to StageQ, which was founded in 2001 to "produce gay, lesbian and other queer-focused theater."
The story remains much the same, says Bennett, "except in this version Bob Cratchit doesn't have a son named Tiny Tim. He has a younger boyfriend called Tim. Instead of Jacob Marley being an old business partner of Scrooge, he's actually Scrooge's lover." Marley dies of AIDS, "because he parties too much and goes out and destroys himself."
This is still a comedy. Bennett won't reveal surprises, but the Ghost of Christmas Past is a Hollywood icon. "And then the Ghost of Christmas Present is always like a big, boisterous drag queen anyway, so why not push it into that direction and completely be a big drag queen? It's a fabulous costume."
Bennett has performed with many area theater groups, including Children's Theater of Madison. In fact, he's performed in their annual production of A Christmas Carol.
"Having been with seven or eight versions of that over the years, I find this version to be highly amusing, personally," Bennett says. But the heart of the story is unchanged.
"It's actually quite touching, quite sad," he says. "I'm looking forward to people coming in expecting fluff, and coming away with, 'Wow, there's actually some substance to this.'"
Starting Friday, Dec. 12, StageQ will also stage late-night presentations of Seven Santas, by Jeff Goode, author of The Eight: Reindeer Monologues. Says StageQ artistic director Tara Ayres, "I think that it will be an interesting foil to Queer Carol: from the sweet and thoughtful to the raunchy and disturbing."