I love Christmas. There is a certain something about the season that warms me up, the extra care people take with each other, the reflection on the months prior to December, or maybe it’s the reminder that all things end which draws us closer together. Whatever it is, the season is my catnip — bring out the antlers, trees, blinking lights and mulled wine and I’m a happy camper.
Like anybody else, I have my Yuletide traditions — watching my wife like a hawk so I can figure out what to get her that will make her face light up on the morning of the 25th, finding obscure Xmas songs to share on social media (my version of an advent calendar), and managing the ever-growing list of what my daughter wants from the fat dude in the red suit. I built some theatrical traditions around it as well.
While living in New York and working as part of Dysfunctional Theatre Company, our shared Yuletide tradition was putting on Jeff Goode’s The Eight: Reindeer Monologues. Over the course of five years, we would attack the holiday from the East Village, bringing patrons into our unique version of the show, where the caribou would testify from their stools at the staff bar, The North Hole. We loved doing that show because it was provocative, silly, and super dark. The opportunity to explore the fact that not everyone has a Merry Christmas is made so much more satisfying with antlers plastered to your head. I had the unique privilege of playing all the male identifying reindeer in that show, and will still quote lines with my friends back east whenever we talk, which is less often than I care to admit.
Back in 2011, my wife and I pulled up stakes from Brooklyn and moved to Portland, the first breaker in a tsunami of transplants that would transform the landscape of this fairy tale city in the woods — for better or worse. I fell in with Bag&Baggage in short order, finding that we spoke a common theatrical language. The first audition I had in front of Scott Palmer, I did a monologue from Reindeer, which unbeknownst to me was their inaugural show at the Venetian (I would learn later that their production almost sank the company, but that’s Scott’s story to tell.) It was kismet. I had found my tribe.
That same year, I auditioned for but didn’t get cast in Charles Dickens Writes a Christmas Carol. Though disappointed, I was happy to sit in the audience, where I was introduced to the unique collaboration of Dickens and Palmer, a super imaginative, hyperliteral combo of slapstick, pathos, and unadulterated joy. “Heart on a Schtick,” as Scott like to put it. He had me hooked. I wanted a shot at working on that script.
A few years later I got a glimpse of it, doing the touring version of Scott’s “Carol” through Washington County. Thus began a new Yuletide tradition — every year since featuring some sort of Dickensian hijinks with Bag&Baggage, and I love it. Carol is my favorite Yuletide story, specifically because it takes the emphasis off the biblical implications and brings it down to street level, illuminating the human condition in a way no writer has been able to do before or since. His treatise on the consequences of avarice and ignorance ring truer to me than any morality play, parable, or fable. Real people suffer in this story. Children labor and die in obscurity, and charity is thin on the ground. Only through honest self-reflection and a reckoning with a life badly lived is Scrooge able to pull the cobwebs from his eyes and join humanity. The original version can drag a bit — Dickens was happy to use a sentence where a word would have done nicely — which is I will always say yes to Scott’s versions of the tale. Whether it’s a tour, a farce, blind-drunk, or this very special version we’re doing now, I will never say no to A Christmas Carol.