Easy Target

The DTC's A Christmas Carol is a show loaded with blanks

I really wanted to like, or at least appreciate, Heart of Christmas, a novel adaptation of two different literary sources by director Elizabeth Ware, whose Core Performance Manufactory staged it at the Bath House Cultural Center--if for no other reason than "on principle," since I spend at least a couple of columns each year complaining about the chronic outbreak of the same old holiday revivals. And I didn't dislike it enough to prevent me from suggesting that Ware reexamine it, redraft it, lengthen it, make the parallels between Dickens' adamantly anti-materialist A Christmas Carol and Joseph Conrad's vaguely anti-imperialist Heart of Darkness more explicit and startling. It's a short leap from the indentured servitude in which Ebenezer Scrooge holds his employees to the exploitation of jungle inhabitants by that ivory-lusting tyrant Kurtz. And so Ware devises a man named Ebenezer Kurtz (played by Martin Holden, whose unpretentious gravity gives this piece its best shot at a dramatic core) who, dying in the jungle, is taken through his life by a Christmas ghost (Audrey McClure, whose rich voice belies her stiff presence). In Conrad's novel, a man named Marlow tells to an unknown narrator the story of Kurtz's journey into the Congo; here, Marlow (Steven Blount) is the direct, if somewhat mystified, teller of the man's tale--until they confront each other in the darkness, and Marlow is mistaken for Marley, a former business associate of Ebenezer Kurtz's.

Part of the problem with Heart of Christmas is that Ware has hugely oversimplified Conrad's novel, which isn't really a finger-wagging exercise about slavery, but an intensely psychological, symbolic story of the competing instincts for civilization and savagery inside everyone. Dickens was a proud Victorian moralist where the injustices of his own society were concerned; Conrad was more interested in how what happens outside reflects what's happening inside. And Ware has not interwoven these related but cross-purposed emphases in any compelling manner. I can report that Core Performance Manufactory has mounted a show expressive in its light and sound design; Michael Burkett III spills illumination in eerie puddles across the floor, and bathes the office of a fretful accountant (Mark O'Dell) with appropriately harsh, unsympathetic light. Veteran Dallas music master Kim Corbet keeps the show more interesting than it really is with foley artist touches of percussion, horn, rain stick, etc., although the look of his wicker-and-bamboo setup makes us think less of Conrad's primeval inner empire than Jimmy Buffet on Gilligan's Island.

Reggie Montgomery plays Scrooge as class clown.
Reggie Montgomery plays Scrooge as class clown.


Through December 24 (214) 522-8499.

Heart of Christmas runs through December 16 at the Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther. Call (214) 670-8750.

Arts District Theater, 2401 Flora St.

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