The Devil’s Christmas Carol
The Mountain at Mount Vernon Place UMC
Sunday, June 12 at 8:00 p.m.; Sunday, June 19 at 3:45 p.m.; Saturday, June 25 at 10:00 p.m.
They Say: “Expect the unexpected in this musical story about lost souls condemned to perform A Christmas Carol in Hell until they get it right. If the show is REALLY good, some souls might get out …. HONEST!”
Glen’s Take: Hoo boy.
Okay. One of the great things about Fringe is the way it gives artists a chance to perform before audiences they wouldn’t have access to otherwise. Let’s not forget that allowing less-than-seasoned performers, directors and writers a chance to ditch the floaties and test themselves in open water is a Really Big Deal.
In return, we Fringe audiences get the chance to make exciting new discoveries. The price we pay for that opportunity, of course, is risk of disappointment. Serious disappointment.
Crushing, soul-sickening, is-this-thing-really-two-hours, Jesus-fuck-I-need-a-beer disappointment.
But we have a responsibility, too. When we see something we love, we must needs tell others about it. And when we see something which gives rise to that particular species of disappointment delineated above, we are charged with the responsibility not to be complete dicks about it. (That’s right, I’m calling you out, continuously sniggering skinny-jeaned hipsters two rows behind me. I mean, I understand where you’re coming from — trust me — but c’mon.)
So let’s not be complete dicks and merely note that The Devil’s Christmas Carol, Greenbelt’s OutoftheBlackBox (all one word, they insist) Theatre Company’s world-premiere musical, evinces more “hey-gang-let’s-put-on-a-show” gumption than discernible craft. The acting’s mostly of the saw-the-air-too-much-with-your-hand variety, the book repeats and repeats and repeats its points, and the songs tend toward listless, dirgy, unmelodic plaints, like the first act’s “Little Mistakes”, sung by an obstetrician who’s botched a delivery: (“Little mistakes/Little mistakes/Everyone makes/Little mistakes”) or the the third(!) act’s “Chains (or, What the Dickens?)”: (“Shake your chains/Shake your chains/Shake your cha-aiiiins.”)
A note about the notes: The actors sing along to pre-recorded music, which is a tremendously difficult thing for veteran performers to pull off, so it’s no suprise when most of the cast keeps coming in too late or too early. The reason it’s so noticeable is that the melody track, which is perhaps intended to guide the vocals, overpowers them instead; you can only hear the words being sung when the cast’s timing is off, which is dismayingly often.
The blessed exception: Kayla Dixon, an 8th grader at Hyattsville Middle School, has the pipes — and the chops — to hold her own against the Casio Tone’s atonal oppression. She’s a natural, a diamond in the (really, no kiddng, you have no idea how) rough. Young Zachary Pinkham, as a quick-to-anger infernal potentate, seems equally at home onstage; get this kid something more substantive to play with.
So, yeah. Some sparks of light, so it would be a mistake to call The Devil’s Christmas Carol completely inept.
But, good Lord, it isn’t ept.
See it if: You are enlightened enough to find pleasure in witnessing a group of perfectly nice people who clearly love the theater throwing themselves in with both feet. Or you are a black-hearted, tiny-souled, skinny-jeaned hipster looking for a Guffman fix.
Skip it if: You are anyone else.