By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Forget those old fruitcakes of the past. This Christmas Carol is as warm, sweet and rich as a classic plum pudding.
Produced by the Festival of Independent Theatres, FIT Christmas tries for diversity but ends up suffering from a lack of focus. The line-up changes nightly, but each performance includes a few holiday-themed 10-minute plays, some musical solos and sing-alongs with the audience and a dash of traditional storytelling. Two playlets, Three Kings by James Venhaus and Two-Person Conversation by Matt Haldeman, are standard sketch material about holiday unpleasantness. The nonsensical Shopping and Dropping by Laura Henry--about teenagers at Macy's stumbling across what could be a corpse--should be returned for a full refund.
On the night reviewed, there was only one sit-up-and-notice segment: Scott A. Eckert's astonishing one-man musical version of Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart. As the opener of the second half of the evening, composer-performer Eckert's strange 15-minute mini-musical is sung in counterpoint to a recorded score of traditional carols. In melodies as atonal and intricate as Sondheim's for Sweeney Todd, Eckert sings and acts out Poe's dark story of jealousy and murder. As Eckert pantomimes stabbing his nemesis in his sleep, the victim's heart beats its last to the thrumming "pah-rum-pah-pum-pums" of "The Little Drummer Boy." Chilling.
Eckert is one of Dallas' most underappreciated theater talents. His modernized versions of Macbeth and Hamlet, staged at the Pocket Sandwich Theatre in a series Eckert calls Shakespeare for the Modern Man, are cleverly streamlined and wickedly witty. He also serves as musical director for musicals all over town. And in his spare time he has come up with this knockout Poe thing. Not exactly imbued with Yuletide cheer, but it is an unexpected spasm of excitement in an otherwise dreary FIT Christmas.