A pair of holiday plays offer audiences tales of two cities — Victorian-era London in Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol” and postwar New Orleans in Tennessee Williams’ dark comedy “The Mutilated” — where even misers and misfits deserve a chance for comfort and joy.
Directed by Maxwell Williams at Le Petit Theatre, “A Christmas Carol” (through Dec. 23) boasts an impressive spectacle driven by first-rate production values and boisterous performances.
The set design by Evan F. Adamson establishes the tone of the show before the first curtain, evoking a Gothic gloom with dark-stained wooden structures, intricate scrollwork and various moving parts that add layers of depth and height to the stage. The set is lit by Andrew F. Griffin in shades of deep purple and indigo, and hypnotic projections by Nicholas Hussong lend an ethereal air of mystery.
As Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Edes Jr. gives a menacing first impression, portraying the classic character with real meanness, as opposed to the harmless curmudgeon that has often been softened up since his first appearance in Dickens’ 1843 novel.
“There’s a lot of human material in the Quarter for a writer,” proclaims the young vagabond writer at the center of Tennessee Williams’ “Vieux…
Likewise, the visiting spirits provide truly startling moments, from the rattling chains of Jacob Marley (John Neisler) to the booming admonishments of the Spirit of Christmas Present (Zeb Hollins III).
It’s not all doom and gloom, though, as Scrooge faces his follies and the true spirit of Christmas is reflected by the love and lightness of those orbiting the old miser: the joyous feast of the Fezziwigs (a lively comic turn from Sean Patterson and Cammie West); the merrymaking of Scrooge’s nephew and his wife (Michael A. Newcomer and Elizabeth McCoy); and the heartwarming austerity of Bob Cratchit (Curtis Billings), Mrs. Cratchit (Kate Kuen), and, of course, Tiny Tim (Evan Roux).
The adaptation by Williams and Billings sticks close to the familiar story, a morality tale so firmly rooted in the culture that there’s little new narrative drama to be uncovered. As a result, the eye-popping production conveys a limited emotional range, except perhaps for those who are somehow unfamiliar with the story. The oversized, melodramatic performances add to the fairy-tale aura and wonder of the show, though sometimes a softer touch might signify more feeling.
When Tennessee Williams’ one-act holiday play “The Mutilated” landed on Broadway, it was part of a double bill (along with “The Gnadiges Fraulein”) dubbed “Slapstick Tragedy.” It’s an apt moniker for “The Mutilated” (through Dec. 22, by the Tennessee Williams Theater Company at the Zeitgeist Multi-disciplinary Arts Center) a play equally steeped in Williams’ raunchy off-kilter humor and his keen understanding of desperation and heartbreak among the down-and-out.
Set in the fictional Silver Dollar Hotel in the French Quarter on Christmas Eve, a past-her-prime hooker named Celeste (Tracey Collins) is on the outs with her former friend Trinket (Margeaux Fanning), the wine-guzzling heiress of a Texas oilman. As they seek the companionship of drunken sailors and local barflies, the pair realize they can really only rely on each other.
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Directed by Augustin J. Correro, “The Mutilated” features a cast of a dozen performers, but the show really belongs to Collins and Fanning, as the women deliver funny, fiery performances in their portrayal of Williams’ offbeat odd couple.
Collins is brash and brassy, and she shows great comic timing as Celeste, the ever-hustling huckster whose tough exterior belies her loneliness and sorrow.
As Trinket, Fanning wears her sadness like a pink polyester shawl, wrapping herself up against the indignities of a mean old world.
Their ongoing catfight, moderated by an exasperated hotel desk clerk (Beau Bratcher), includes some of Williams’ best one-liners, put-downs and stage gags.
Less successful is the playwright’s foray into musical theater, as “The Mutilated” contains lyrics by Williams set to an original score by Michael Gillette. The songs are performed by a chorus of carolers and dedicated “to the wayward and deformed, to the lonely and misfit.” The melancholy, minor-key tunes undercut the dark humor of the play, and the dragging tempo disrupts the enthusiastic performances, making the multiple musical numbers more of a liability than an enhancement.
Like many of Williams’ later plays, even casual fans will recognize the playwright’s poetic touch and his insight into the humor and heartache of the human condition, though the freewheeling experimentation of these works don’t always land.
“A Christmas Carol”
WHEN: through December 23
WHERE: Le Petit Theatre, 616 St. Peter St.
INFO: (504) 522-2081 or lepetittheatre.com
WHEN: through December 22
WHERE: Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.
INFO: (504) 264-2580 or www.twtheatrenola.com