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Theater Review: Aah! Scrooge Must Die!: Presented by The Actors’ Gang

Poor Ebenezer. As a working-class kid in 19th century urban London, he is raised by crotchety and uncaring parents. His father even pawns him off into wretched servitude as a clerk. Then his pale and sickly sister dies, leaving behind a son born out of wedlock. It’s no wonder this Scrooge feels like he’s getting screwed. Turns out he is – in more ways than one in Aah! Scrooge Must Die!, an over-the-top X-rated rendering of A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens’ holiday classic. However, this version is definitely not for tender ears and innocent eyes.

Writer-director Angela Berliner re-imagines this Ebenezer Scrooge as a rude and lewd dude, his sociopathic tendencies a result of terrible parenting. He filches a shilling from Tiny Tim and feeds the corpse of his dead partner Marley to the wolves instead of giving him a proper burial. Before heartlessly stabbing a hapless beggar, he snaps, “I’m not running a friggin’ soup kitchen.”

Produced by The Actors’ Gang, the play brings to the surface the original tale’s fierce indictment of miserly types who exploit the poor, but it does so with an overlay of low-brow one-liners and sexually suggestive poses that produce little payoff either comically or dramatically. The twisted irreverence is at odds with the moments of darker, more serious underpinnings – as in Scrooge’s rejection of his love interest Belle (Toni Torres) for the sake of financial interest, and the pathetically desperate plight of the Cratchit family, depicted with edgy poignance by Chris Schultz, Seth Compton, Anne Brashier, Heather J. Thomas, and Elora Dannon (an endearingly self-conscious Tiny Tim).

As the expletive-spouting protagonist, Scott Harris invests the role with impressively manic energy, blended with a vicious streak a la Sweeney Todd. As the manacled Jacob Marley, who comes back from the grave to torment Scrooge, Justin Zsebe creates an intensely spooky spectacle. With their raw energy, the actors are all up to the task and the production values are up to par, especially the well-appointed Victorian costumes, soot-stained set, and moody sound design. The material, however, makes for a mismatched pastiche. Stooping to potty humor, including a plethora of anal references, this Scrooge is a bit too focused on the bottom line.

The play runs Thursdays – Saturdays at 8 p.m. through January 10, with additional performances at 10:30 p.m. on December 19 and 20; January 2, 3, 9, and 10, at The Actors’ Gang, Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City. For information and reservations, call 310.838.4264 or visit theactorsgang.com.

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