Not only is it ambitious to try to follow up one of the world’s most well-respected and best loved pieces of literature with a sequel, it’s extremely difficult too. Just as many fairy tales are now offering up glimpses into what happened after the “happily ever after,” Marvin Kaye is once again serving up his annual time-twisting continuation to A Christmas Carol at the 78th St. Theatre Lab. Kaye’s The Last Christmas of Ebenezer Scrooge speculates as to how Scrooge lived out the remainder of his days, and whether his late repentance and generous good deeds are truly enough to gain his entrance into heaven. This staged reading with a cast of four (including Kaye himself) brings back some familiar characters while introducing some new influencers, but one can’t help wondering: is it possible to present a sequel to such a literary masterpiece without diminishing its original appeal?
The answer is yes and no. While Last Christmas does an admirable job with its idea and tone, the overall reminder is that this isn’t Dickens. And unlike Dickens, who created a seamless blend of cold reality and even realer fantasy to deliver a moral message, this saga instead concentrates on its wild ride through London and beyond.
Scrooge dispatches himself onto a series of good deed journeys after he experiences trouble sleeping, convinced that revisiting his past and finding even more people to help will stave off the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (who makes a guest appearance). With his trusty Jewish sidekick Pauly (otherwise known as the little boy who scrambles off to buy the enormous turkey on Christmas morn) and a teen-age Tiny Tim, Scrooge somehow manages to entangle himself in the search for an old colleague’s missing granddaughter while growing ever jollier and wiser by the minute. It is this aspect that lends a Nancy Drew mystery aura to the piece, leaving one to wonder where the lesson that made the original so enduring went and why a showcase of heavenly legal finesse in the last scene has taken its place.
On the plus side, all of the actors engaged for this piece are more than up to the task of representing a cavalcade of distinctively accented characters. Kaye himself is especially deserving of praise (not surprising, since he used to act out the entire story on his own). He takes on roles as diverse as the gruff town doctor to the widower husband of Belle, Scrooge’s former flame. It is his portrayal of Pauly, though, that is truly endearing; he plays the boy/young man with elfin adorableness.
Stacey Jenson is poised if not a tad bland, but then again she is relegated to roles that have never possessed much stage meat, such as Tiny Tim and Scrooge’s nephew, Fred. As Scrooge himself, H. Clark Kee manages to be English without being trite, and his various other U.K. accents are just as much fun to listen to as they are to decipher. Bringing the majority of warmth to the characters is Nancy Temple, injecting each of her characters (mainly the women of the tale) with determined sincerity.
The Last Christmas of Ebenezer Scrooge is certainly another charming example of holiday fare, but its rambling plot and unexplained conveniences, not to mention the overextended final sequence in heaven, keep it from achieving classic status. However, for those whom a nicely wrapped ending is never satisfying enough, this Christmas might just sate your curiosity.
The Open Book