Christmas plays can be tricky. For starters, not everyone celebrates Christmas, which potentially alienates part of the theater-going crowd. Also, most Christmas plays are often shoddily written, more about sentiment than substance, and a means to distract children with pageantry instead of quality. Oh, and finally, if the play decides to approach Christmas from a religious angle, it risks being treacle, preachy and downright insulting.
But luckily, Cascades Theatrical Company's Humbug avoids those red-and-green glitter-lined pitfalls and instead comes at the holiday in the same way that Scrooged did: by taking a story that everyone knows (A Christmas Carol) and placing it into an updated setting and giving the characters modern, American problems.
The biggest twist on A Christmas Carol in Humbug is that the characters of Scrooge and Bob Cratchit have been given a gender reversal and come fully formed as Eleanor Scrooge and Roberta Cratchit. Scrooge is now a high-powered executive, raining down her greed and misery from the 16th floor of a Wall Street office building, and Cratchit is her long-suffering assistant. The performances by Ann Marie Anderson and Andrea Couch as Scrooge and Cratchit balance the family-friendly atmosphere of the script with the characters' sub-textual sadness quite well.
However, the smartest twist in John Wooten's script is setting it in the financial world and delivering a clear (but not preachy) message of love being more important than money. While the show easily could have made that message saccharine palatable, there are some genuinely thoughtful choices here that keep the viewer invested in the characters.
Since A Christmas Carol has become a part of America's national consciousness, the story is familiar; yet, Humbug reaches for those narrative beats in fresh and sometimes genuinely moving manners. If cynicism can sometimes be bread and butter to our collective selves around the holidays, it is nice to be surrounded by the pure optimism of watching characters forsake greed and gain for family and companionship.
It was impressive to watch the rehearsal of Humbug and see director Ron McCracken deftly guide actors through an incomplete set and deal with multiple actors unavailable that night. His handle on the material and faith in his cast seemed to move the show along fluidly, with the brisk 75-minute running time feeling instantaneous. With his deft handle on the material and the actors, the show should be delighting families around Bend when it opens in a few days.
Dec. 5- Dec. 20. Thurs-Sat 7:30 pm & Sun. 2 pm
Cascades Theatrical Company, 148 NW Greenwood Ave.
Tickets available on Cascadestheatrical.org