By Dee Jae Cox

“Marley was dead: to begin with.  There is no doubt whatever about that.  The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner.  Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.  Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.”

And so beings Charles Dickens’ classic story, “A Christmas Carol.” First published in London in December of 1843.   Few stories can stand the test of time the way that this novella has managed to do.  It has been produced on the stage, in films, in parables, cartoons and just about any other media form that can be imagined.  And this holiday season Desert Theatreworks has put their own creative and individual spin on this timeless tale.

A Christmas Carol, tells the story of Ebenzer Scrooge, performed by J. Stegar Thompson, who has just the right amount of ‘bah-humbug’ to make you fully appreciate his road to redemption as the miserly old man who is wealthy only with money, but lacks all sense of humanity or generosity.

Mr. Scrooge treats the world as if it was one big annoyance.  He callously disregards the needs of his sole employee Bob Cratchit, wonderfully portrayed by veteran actor Gregg Aratin and nephew Fred, his only living relative (Stephen McMillen.)

Scrooge is destined for eternal torment until a visit from three ghosts: Christmas Past performed by actress Patricia Cromwell, who does a beautiful job in her double role as Mrs. Cratchit, Christmas Present (Tanner Lieser) and Christmas Future (Miguel Arballo), transform Scrooge’s miserly soul into one of benevolence and he finally learns the true meaning of Christmas.

No spoilers here, if you have not seen some version of this story, then you’ve been living in a cave for the past century and a half.  Two of my favorite performances were Nella Sue Neal as Mrs. Fezziwig and the adorable Tess Martinez as Tiny Tim; small roles that took their moments to bring a smile.

Finding a way to put a new spin on an old story is always the true test of a storyteller.  And Desert Theatreworks does not disappoint with Lance Phillips-Martinez’s adaptation of this holiday tale.  With the addition of Christmas music sprinkled throughout the scenes, performed by Carolers as well as cast, it is a feel good addition to this well worn story. The singers were wonderful and the sound quality perfect.  Phillips-Martinez’s split scene performances of Fred’s Christmas party and the Cratchit Christmas dinner was especially enjoyable as we were treated to the thread of music that was woven between the two scenes. I especially appreciated the creative use of the scrim to enhance the storytelling.  What the set seemed to lack in inspiration, Emily Ramirez’s costumes more than made up for.  This show has some of the best costuming I’ve seen on stage in a while.

I would be remise in not mentioning that Desert Theatreworks does not have a single show written by a female playwright in this entire season, which I don’t believe to be acceptable representation of any community.  However this company is a class act and they do present quality theatre. And you know that it wouldn’t be the holidays if you didn’t see at least one version of A Christmas Carol, so go ahead and make it this one.

A Christmas Carol, a production of Desert Theatreworks, is performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through December 20th, at the Arthur Newman Theatre at the Joslyn Center, located at 73750 Catalina Way, in Palm Desert.

For Reservations: call 760-980-1455, or visit www.dtworks.org.

Dee Jae Cox, is a playwright, director and producer.  She is the Cofounder and Artistic Director for The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project and the host of KPTR 1450’s hit radio show, “California Woman 411” in Palm Springs.

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