Published in Décor & Style Magazine

‘Tis the season…. for something old, something new, something old made new and something out of the blue.

For traditionalists, The Nutcracker returns to San Diego and Orange County. The California Ballet brings back Tchaikovsky’s all-time favorite, in downtown and North County venues. Executive director Maxine Mann choreographs a cast of 160, backed by members of the San Diego Symphony. The magical Christmas tree grows to fill the room as the memorable music swells and fills your holiday heart. All matinee performances include Sugar Plum Parties, allowing young audiences to enjoy refreshments and meet the cast, as well as a certain jolly seasonal gentleman. (12/19-22 at the San Diego Civic Theatre; 12/28-29 at the Poway Performing Arts Center; 858-560-6741). The San Diego Symphony will also accompany the renowned Moscow Classical Ballet as it dances The Nutcracker in Escondido (1/12-15, California Center for the Arts; 800-988-4235).

After a four year absence, the American Ballet Theatre returns to the Orange County Performing Arts Center with its renowned production of the famous tale of Mouse Kings and soldier Princes, sugarplum fairies and an international array of dancing delights. Staged by artistic director Kevin McKenzie, the swashbuckling production promises to enchant audiences of all ages. (12/18-22; 714-740-7878).

For its 27th production of A Christmas Carol, the San Diego Repertory Theatre is taking another new turn. The show has been re-conceived as a gospel meeting, a circus, a homeless tale and other wild imaginings. Now, under the direction of the Rep’s much-heralded associate artistic director Todd Salovey, the 1843 Dickens classic returns to its homebase, Victorian England. Master designer Giulio Cesare Perrone, once again turning his endless creative talents to sets and costumes, will transform the Rep into a wistful winter landscape — an aptly Dickensian backdrop for the timeless tale of release and redemption. “We’re playing with the magic and poetry of wintertime and snow,” says Salovey. “We’re presenting snowmen and snow angels, ice skating and icicles — all kinds of things people love about the snow.” The supernatural almost always pops up in Salovey productions, and there will be no shortage of ghosts — and gnomes! — in this production. The talented Steve Gunderson is writing original music, and there will be carols galore. Many Rep favorites will be featured, including Globe veteran Jonathan McMurtry as Dickens himself, Julie Jacobs as an ice skating Belle, and XXXXX as old snarly, miserly Ebenezer Scrooge — the nasty-man we love to hate and come to love. (11/30-12/29, at the Lyceum in Horton Plaza; 619-544-1000).

Now if you want to take a peek behind the curtains, you’ll get the whole back-story in Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol, a San Diego premiere at North Coast Repertory Theatre. The piece was conceived in 1995, when a young child pointed out to writer/actor Tom Mula that Jacob Marley got a raw deal in Dickens’s Christmas Carol. Thanks to him, Scrooge was redeemed, but Marley remained in chains for eternity. Mula agreed that this was grossly unfair, and wrote his version of the story, told from Marley’s point of view. Originally written as a novella, the piece had its world premiere at the Goodman Studio in Chicago, where Mula himself (like Dickens before him) enacted the story.

The play goes back in time, when, seven years after his death, confined to a hellish Hell, Jacob Marley is condemned for his inhumanity, eternally chained, as are his fellow prisoners, to what they most hated on earth, or what they most prized above other people.

Horrified by his fate, Marley begs for a chance to redeem himself. If he can bring about the reform of the one person on earth who is a worse curmudgeon than he himself was in life, he can escape his deadly doom. The ghostly sensibility of Dickens combines with a contemporary wit in this one-man tour de force that stars the much-lauded and loved local actor, Ron Choularton.

“As the story progresses,” explains the British-born Choularton, “Marley learns fear and pity, and earns redemption for himself and for Scrooge. It’s a journey we take with old Jacob as he eventually learns about life — but not before meeting up with a host of ghostly folk, visiting his own youth and experiencing all the things Scrooge does in the original, but in different circumstances. He isn’t alone in his mission, though; he’s led and sometimes pushed by this nauseating but comical little chap called Bogle. Although defined as a kind of spirit, I did notice that his name is an anagram of ‘Globe,’ a well-traveled place in this play.” The ending, like its predecessor, is warm and moving. Prepare to be enlightened, if not transformed. (11/24-12/29at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach; 888-776-NCRT).

And now, for something completely different….a comic gothic thriller that has absolutely nothing to do with the holidays, but it’s a hoot in its own right. Diversionary Theatre presents The Mystery of Irma Vep, a two-man tour de force, where the two make 100 costume changes and play multiple, outrageous characters. In the dark spirit of Rebecca and Wuthering Heights, Irma Vep draws on innumerable images from suspense films, horror movies and other ‘penny dreadfuls.’ The action swings wildly from the foggy moors surrounding Mandarcrest Manor to the dusty tombs of Cairo and back again. We meet a sympathetic werewolf, a ghostly vampire, a deceased first wife and the reincarnated mummy of a long-dead Egyptian princess. Accomplished comic actors David McBean and Farhang Pernoon play eight roles in this quick-change marathon.

In Charles Ludlum’s wacky, campy spoof of every dark and stormy night you’ve ever watched or read about, the romance of Lord Edgar (Pernoon) and his new bride, lady Enid (McBean) is complicated by Edgar’s lingering attachment to his first (dead?) wife. The household staff, a wooden-legged butler and disgruntled housekeeper, fan the flames of discontent. Rapid character and costume changes pile up the mystery and the laughter.

The play was first performed in 1984 by Ludlum and his artistic and life partner, Everett Quinton, as part of Ludlum’s ridiculous Theatre Company in New York’s West village. It received both Obie and Drama Desk Awards, and became the theater company’s most successful (and still most widely produced) play. In 1987, Ludlum died of AIDS-related pneumonia at the age of 44, but his hilarity lives on.

If you’re sated with sugarplums, and crave a little tart zaniness in your holiday confections, slink on down to Diversionary. (through 12/21, at 4545 Park Blvd., on the outskirts of Hillcrest; 619-220-0097).

Whatever you do for the holidays — make it dramatic!


Pat Launer is resident theater critic at KPBS radio and TV. Her theater reviews can be heard Fridays at 8:30am on 89.5FM, or viewed online at, and at

©2002 Patté Productions Inc.