In retelling Charles Dickens’s perennial holiday classic, A Christmas Carol, playwright Maya Malan-Gonzalez performs the theatrical equivalent of completely gutting a building, keeping the foundation and outer walls, but changing everything else. Her A Xmas Cuento Remix, set in a contemporary urban area, concerns a sour Christmas-hating Scrooge of a woman, Dolores, successful in business but mean to her employees and estranged from the only family she has left, her niece’s family. As you can see, she is ripe for a visitation from four life-changing ghosts on Christmas Eve.
Malan-Gonzalez’s story and characters are decidedly contemporary, and her witty dialogue is peppered with 21st century slang, in both English and Spanish. Sadly, the production at 16th Street Theater (directed by Miguel Nuñez) has been hobbled by the abrupt exit during previews last weekend of their lead actress (family issues, according to the program, that will keep her out of the show for the rest of the run). The show’s music director, Satya Chavez, stepped in as a last-minute replacement, and though she is credible, if at times a little stiff, the drama of losing a lead so close to opening has clearly taken a toll on the show. And though the show is charming, it lacks the emotional payoff at the end, when Scrooge/Dolores discovers the true spirit of Christmas. Thanks to the National New Play Network the show is more or less simultaneously being premiered at two other U.S. theaters this season (in Cleveland, and Portland, OR), and it’s hard not to wonder about how this great material is faring in other, less unlucky, productions. v