The holiday season brings an inevitable array of Nutcrackers and Christmas Carols to stages around town. Each production chooses to honor the original work in different ways, from Debbie Allen’s Hot Chocolate Nutcracker to A Noise Within’s family musical A Christmas Carol.
A unique take on the famous Dickens work is having its world premiere this month. InHouse Theatre creates site-specific works, and its Christmas Carol prequel, The Past, A Present Yet To Come, is currently playing downtown, and will soon move to the Ebell of Los Angeles. The show has the potential to carve out its own place as a holiday classic.
Playwright Matt Schatz weaves together historical facts about Dickens, a clever plot and witty dialogue with original wordplay that brings laughter while moving the story along. The December 1842 London setting is clearly evoked through lighting, music, props, costumes and three very talented actors.
The plot takes advantage of Dickens’ real-life troubles: his favorite novel, Martin Chuzzlewit, was a financial failure and in 1842, after years of popularity, he suddenly found himself in need of money. The stage is set, so to speak, for him to take on an offbeat commission.
As the play opens, J.B. Roth (Keri Safran), a wily theatrical producer, receives a visit from Fred (Brandon Scott). Fred is a nephew of the renowned curmudgeon Ebeneezer Scrooge. Inspired by an 1836 Dickens piece entitled “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton,” he wishes to commission a work and hire a troupe. He envisions something immersive: a team of actors performing for an audience of someone unaware he’s attending a play. With a single performance on Christmas Eve, in his own home, such a show might inspire Scrooge to see the error of his ways.
Roth knows Dickens (Rob Welsh) is looking for some income and brings him in. The three debate budget, casting and the other necessities of production. Seeing the pieces fall into place feels like being let in on a secret.
As Dickens, Welsh is hilariously awkward, alternating between doltish and clever. He is every producer’s nightmare, needing convincing to take the job, then hand-holding to get it done. Safran plays the imperious producer with knowing style, moving the story along as a brisk, eye-rolling professional forced to deal with two of the most frustrating types in the business: artists and benefactors. And as the nephew who sets it all in motion, Scott brings the charm to his desperate attempt to save Scrooge from himself.
Because A Christmas Carol is indeed a classic, The Past, A Present Yet To Come has an air of inevitability about it. Yet the play has suspense and well-thought-through surprises that will have you viewing its sequel in new ways.
The Past, A Present Yet to Come has one more performance, Dec. 7, at Artison Studios, 937 E. Pico Blvd., and then moves tot the Ebell of Los Angeles, 743 S. Lucerne Blvd., from Dec. 11-14. Tickets are $38.50 and can be purchased here.