Theater Review - Director Eve Krueger spikes the eggnog with Invasion: Christmas Carol

Dad's Garage sends up Dickens' Christmas classic with annual improv adaptation

Eve Krueger dislikes Charles Dickens and doesn't consider herself much of a Christmas person. Nevertheless, the actress has played nearly every female character in A Christmas Carol, including Ebenezer Scrooge's old girlfriend Belle, Bob Cratchit's wife, Mrs. Fezziwig, and the Ghost of Christmas Past — who also happened to be rock singer Stevie Nicks.

Wait, what? Since 2008, the veteran improviser has acted in the ensemble of Dad's Garage Theatre's annual production of Invasion: Christmas Carol, which drops a new interloper into the classic tale for each performance. This year, Krueger directs the partially improvised send-up of the Scrooge story.

Krueger's Invasion: Christmas Carol stars Rene Dellefont as Scrooge along with Harriss Callahan, Karen Cassady, Jan Lefrancois-Gijzen, Megan Leahy, and Clint Sowell. Every night also features an additional performer, the "invader," whose presence can turn Dickens' tale of midwinter redemption upside down, requiring the ensemble to accommodate the new continuity on the fly. Before curtain, the audience gets to vote on which of two characters the invader will play ahead of time. "On opening night, Lucky Yates was going to play either a Victorian-era street pimp or Elmo from 'Sesame Street,'" says Krueger. "The vote was close, about 34 to 30, but he invaded as Elmo. It got a little dirty."

Directing Invasion: Christmas Carol can be an exercise in controlled chaos. Krueger wants her performers to find the funniest possibilities in a given night's premise, without having the show fly completely off the rails. While some of the productions enforce clearly defined rules about when and where the performers will improvise, "The second year we did it there were no rules," she says. "During one of the later rehearsals we had one invader, and things devolved so quickly and so horribly, we only got through the first act."

Part of Krueger's job is to develop this year's script for Invasion: Christmas Carol. "The first 10 minutes of the show are basically the same every night, and most of the lines in the play that aren't improvised come from Dickens," she says. "Every night the invader makes his first appearance in Scrooge's counting house, and after that, a couple of scenes must remain the same. Marley and Scrooge have information they need to set up, for instance. If the invader is very invasive and changes scenes from the beginning, the show can be 80 percent improvised. If we have a more laid-back invader, it's more like 60 percent improvised."

While not a Dickens fan, Krueger wants her version of Invasion: Christmas Carol to reflect the original book's bleakness and social commentary. "When I think of the time Dickens was writing in, things were terrible," she says. "If you look at the etchings in the books, there's the illustration in the center and darkness at the edges. We have a darker sense of humor about things in this show. It's still funny and it's still happy at the end, but it's a darker show."

Krueger acknowledges that Invasion: Christmas Carol, which has featured such guests as the A-Team and a detective named No Shit Sherlock, may not be a holiday show for the whole family. "I've thought a lot about this over the past five years," she says. "It really depends on how good your sense of humor is, and who the invader is on a given night. Because on some nights, things are totally destroyed. Saturday night, Tiny Tim was a murderer and the show ended with his assassination right after he said, 'God bless us, every one.' If someone's a purist and can't deal with it, they should go to the Alliance Theatre's Christmas Carol."

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