Sunday, January 11, 2009

FROM "HUMBUG" TO "HORSE HOCKEY"--Making the familiar startlingly new

Everyone is familiar with Charles Dickens' classic story, "A Christmas Carol." After all, there have been dozens upon dozens of film versions, TV versions and radio versions of the story. "A Christmas Carol" in the most dramatized literary work in the history of live theatre--meaning, it has been dramatized more times than any other story ever written--ever! Theatre companies around the world have stayed in business by producing, year after year, their own particular production of Dickens' classic story.

Scrooge's catch phrase, "Bah! Humbug" has become as much a part of Christmas as jingle-bells and Santa Claus.

Characters from "A Christmas Carol" haven been depicted on Christmas cards and in Christmas art for well over 160 years. For instance, during the holiday season who hasn't seen a drawing somewhere of the crippled child Tiny Tim riding on the shoulders of a redeemed and smiling Scrooge as the old man walks through the snow covered streets of old London? We're all familiar that classic image.

But did you know that this famous scene--dramatized in so very many film, theatre and Tv versions of the story--actually is not found in Dickens' original book?

Yes, we all are very familiar with "A Christmas Carol"....

...Or are we?

In the 1980's, award-winning playwright Rob Lauer read Dickens' original book--and was astounded by what he found. Having grown up seeing film, TV and theatrical adaptaitons of the story, Lauer assumed that he knew Dickens' story all too well. He soon discovered he was very wrong. Said Lauer:

"The book was much darker than I ever imagined, and the humor was often biting. I always thought that the story was overly sentimental and sweet; the original book is not. Most of the movies and TV versions of the story lift their dialogue straight from Dickens' book--but only parts of it. I began to get the impression that when some wrote a 'new' script for a 'new' version of the story, they must have drawn upon earlier scripts written by other dramatists instead of going back to Dickens' original book.

"There were very moving incidents in Dickens' original book that I had never seen dramatized. For instance, when Scrooge seens himself as a young boy, left to spend Christmas alone at school, there's a lengthy episode about Scrooge's youthful love of reading books--particularly 'Robinson Crusoe" and "Arabian Nights." Later Scrooge is shown what became of his former fiancee; he is shown how happy she eventually was after leaving him, and marry a loving man and having children with him. Scrooge sees the family together at Christmas, enjoying one another's company, showing their affection physically with hugs and kissess; and Scrooge--seeing for the first time the kind of life that could have been his, and which he will now never know--becomes heartbroken and distraught. I thought the scene was incredibly tragic, moving and dark; that it was a scene crying out to be dramatized. And yet I had never seen that episode--so pivotal in the book's plot--dramatized.

"What really impressed me was the quality of the storytelling itself--Dickens' narrative voice. His descriptions of the characters, their inner thoughts; of the loctaions, of the events--these are a pure joy to read. That narrative voice is completely absent from most film, TV and theatre adaptations of the story. Reading the original book for the first time, Dickens' narrative voice seemed to add an entirely new and refreshing context to the familiar dialogue that I had heard year after year in films and plays of the story.

"I was determined that if I ever had the chance to write a new version of 'A Christmas Carol' I would do my best to capture that narrative voice, and that I would present the episodes in the book that most dramatizations have ignored."

That chance came in 2002. Lauer has been hired as the Artistic Director of "Swamp Gravy"--the nationally acclaimed "official folk-life play of the state of Georgia."

(Above: Photos from the 2002 production of "Swamp Gravy.")

The theatre in which "Swamp Gravy" was presented was Cotton Hall--a former cotton warehouse in the tiny town of Colquitt, Georgia. The warehouse had been built in the 1930's as part of the New Deal, but by the 1960's had been more or less abandoned--used only for storage. In the early 1990's when the Colquitt Miller Arts Council (with grants from the Georgia Council for the Arts and the NEA) began producing "Swamp Gravy," the old cotton warehouse was transformed into a 400 seat theatre that would serve as the production's permanent home. Unfortunately "Swamp Gravy" was the only production presented in Cotton Hall, which meant one of the country's most unique theatrical venues stood empty most of the year.

Lauer proposed that the Colquitt Miller Arts Council begun producing several professional shows a year, featuring actirs cast of out New York. Learning that some members of the arts council had entertained the idea of presenting a Christmas show at Cotton Hall, Lauer suggested that a new version of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" be presented--this time set in Depression Era Georgia.

"A Southern Christmas Carol" premiered on December 3, 2003.

Determined to remain true to Dickens' oirginal stiry, Lauer went through the book paragraph by paragraph and concept by concept. Where Dickens' story was set against the class structure of 1830's Engalnd, Lauer translated it against the class structure of the rural deep South under Jim Crow law and the economic downturn of the Great Depression. Where Dickens' story focused on British bigotry against the poor and the uneducated, Lauer hinted at the racism found in the American south during the 1930's. For every character representing some part of London's social order in the 1830's, Lauer found a 1930's American and Southern counterpart.

"My objective was to take a story that everyone mistakenly assumes they already know, and bring it to life in such a way that it appears to be something completely new and original," said Lauer. Based on the reaction of theatre critics and audiences, he succeeded.

So what about Scrooge's favorite catch-phrase? "Bah! Humbug!" was never a common figure speech among Americans--especially Southerners.

"I did some research and discovered that 'humbug' came into use in England in the early 1700's," said Lauer. "A 'humbug' is defined assomething is that's false, that's ridiculous and completely unbelievable. In common American slang "humbug" means BS.

"Of course, I couldn't have Scrooge cursing in a show that would have families with small children in the audience, so I began to think about the way my grandparents--both from the rural South--would express themselves when they felt like cursing. Southerners are very inventive with language; I think it's a holdover from the British and Scotch Irish who originally settled the region.

"When I was a small child I was taught that the slang word I should use for--well, for 'manure' was 'hockey.' And I remembered that as a little kid I heard some adults say 'Horse Hockey' and 'Bull Hockey' instead of BS. You called something a lot of "Horse hockey" when it was obviously false, stupid or foolish--when it was what the British would have once called a 'humbug.' And so it came to pass that in 'A Southern Christmas Carol.' Old Man Scrooge dismisses Christmas by barking, 'Bah! Horse hockey!' When Scrooge first spat that phrase out on opening night, the aucdience errupted in laughter and applauded; it was completely unexpected; it had a certain amount of shock value while at the same time it wasn't offensive. Most importantly, every Southerner in the audience knew exactly what it meant. They reacted to it in much the same way that British readers first reacted to 'Bah! Humbug!'"


Everyone knows what a Christmas Carol is....

...or do they?

And why did Charles Dickens entitle his story "A Christmas Carol?" After all, it's not a song.

"A Southern Christmas Carol" features a cast of ten actors. Nine of these actors first appear on stage as a group of Depression-era Southern folk singing a medley of traditional and Southern carols to the audience. As the show progresses these nine carolers narrate the story and portray all the characters in the story--with the exception of Scrooge who does not join in the singing until the very end of the show.

Jimmy Bishop & Karen Beyer explain what a Christmas carol is
in the original 2003 production of "A Southern Christmas Carol."
To set up the story, the carolers explain to the audience exactly what a Christmas carol is and why Charles Dickens chose "A Christmas Carol" as the title for his classic story. Below is an abridged version of what the characters say:

“Now there seems to be a lot of confusion over just what a Christmas carol is.

"For instance, some folks think that 'Frosty the Snowman' is a carol. I hate to disappoint you folks, but it is not. No, Sir, and neither is 'Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.'

"Now those are perfectly good songs. I like hearing them at Christmas as much as the next fella, but they are not carols. A carol is more like a hymn; it has to do with the religious or spiritual meaning of Christmas.

"A carol can be about Mary and the Baby Jesus, or it can be about the angels appearing to the shepherds. But a carol can also be about spiritual rebirth— like 'I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.'

"There’s no talk of Jesus or Mary in that song, but the fellow in it comes to believe in God and the eventual triumph of righteous--all because he hears Church bells ringing on Christmas Day.

"Now the story we’re gonna tell you here is about someone who—because of Christmas—sees the error of his ways, repents and is spiritually reborn! And so, this story could be thought of as a sort of Christmas Carol—‘A Christmas Carol in Prose’ as Mr. Charles Dickens originally called it. But since we’re changing the setting from London, England in the 1840’s to rural Georgia, during the Great Depression, we’re gonna call it: ‘A Southern Christmas Carol!’”

Morgan Carson, Rubin Singleton and Andrew Frace open the 2004 production as carolers.


"A Southern Christmas Carol" takes Charles Dickens' immortal story from the streets of London in the 1840's to rural southwest Georgia in 1933 during the Great Depression.

This was a time when the majority of Americans were facing hard times; when the US economy was in a downward spiral--as situation all too similiar to our current situation. The classic images (above and below) illustrate just how desperate the lives of so many American had become.

Nevertheless as most Americans struggled just to make ends meet, they continued to embrace Christmas. As pictured below, Depression era department stores were decorated for the holiday just as they are today--a tradition that is celebrated in one song from "A Southern Christmas Carol" entitled "It's All Because of Santa Claus." In fact, it was during the Depression that Santa Claus truly became the central symbol of Christmas for Americans--regardless of their religious affiliations.
While large department stores could be found in large cities and towns across the United States, in small Southenr rural communities (the setting of "A Southern Christmas Carol') the local stores were more likely to resemble the one pictured below. In much of the rural South, the economy continued to be founded upon cotton. The local cotton gin owner was often times the wealthiest man in the county. In "A Southern Christmas Carol" the character of Old Man Scrooge is the owner of a southwest Georgia cotton gin--as pictured below.

Christmas celebrations during the Depression were decidely smaller affairs than in our day. Those children whose families could afford to "have Santa visit" often received but one or two small gifts--and often those gifts uncluded something practical such as a pair of new socks. In the rural South Christmas stocking were usually stuffed not with candy but with fruits from the local market--which might sometimes include a more exotic fruit such as an orange. Christmas celebrations in the home were simple with larger celebrations being held at local churches or community gathering places.
Despite the outward cheer of these celebrations, the nation was still one that was deeply divided politically. Roosevelt was president but not all Americans agreed with all aspects of the New Deal philosophy and that was reflected in the popular media--often such things as the December 1933 "Little Orphan Annie" cartoon below:
The attitude presented above is one that Old Man Scrooge embraces in "A Southern Christmas Carol." In the only line in the show that is the least bit overtly poilitical, Scrooge complains to a couple of missionaries who are collecting for a charity about President Roosevelt raising his taxes in order to help "the so-called poor."

The nation was not only divided politically. Not only in the South (with its vicious Jim Crow laws) but across the country, racism against black Americans was so widely accepted that Christmas cards such as the one blow were marketed, sold and exchanged--and white Americans thought nothing about it.

It is against this backdrop of a nation struggling economically, divided politically and racially that "A Southern Christmas Carol" is set. Politics and race are never mentioned or addressed directly in the show (the focus remains the redemption of the human soul), but throughout the show the characters live and breath in time when the nation was deeply divided.

The message of "A Southern Christmas Carol"--as in Dickens' original story--is one that, coincidentally, seems to be on the lips on most American at this very moment: Change is possible.

(Above: Jimmy Bishop as the Ghost of Christmas Present and Peter Lewis as Old Man Scrooge look upon Allison Spragin-as Scrooge's housekeeper--and Rubin Singleton--as her polio-crippled son in the original 2003 production of "A Southern Christmas Carol.")


The lyrics for the songs in "A Southern Christmas Carol" look to the original Charles Dickens book not only for inspiration but for content, for metaphors, for figures of speech. There's no better example of this than in the show's opening number "That's Old Man Scrooge." The music is upbeat, catchy, with a folksy Country music feel. The lyrics also have a very "American," Country music feeling, but they also follow concept for concept the description of Srooge that Charles Dickens wrote in the opening pages of the book.

Look over Dickens' descripion of Scrooge--printed below--paying special attention to the phrases and words highlighted:

"Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind- stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dogdays; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.
"External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him.No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn't know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often "came down" handsomely, and Scrooge never did.
Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, "My dear Scrooge, how are you? When will you come to see me?" No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o'clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blind men's dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, "No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!"

But what did Scrooge care? It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance, was what the knowing ones call "nuts" to Scrooge.

Compare the above passage from Dickens' oirginal book to the lyrics below:

“Now Old Man Scrooge was hard as flint.
He carried a chill wherever he went,
Even in the Summer’s scorchin’ sun!
Nothin’ could warm him one degree
No wind that blew was more bitter than he.
When they saw him comin’ dogs turned tail to run!

"Feel that chill comin’ down the street?
That’s Old Man Scrooge!
Cold as snow and hard as sleet:
That’s Old Man Scrooge!
Get out of his way or don’t you know
He’s liable to tell you where to go!
A mean old cuss
Who’ll make a fuss--
That’s Old Man Scrooge!

"Now Scrooge’s face was frozen stiff
With his nose turned up like he’d caught a whiff
Of some awful, rotten, stinkin’ smell!
His cheeks were shriveled!

"His nose looked nipped!
Had a bluish tint to his thin, pursed lips
Because he hadn’t smiled in quite a spell

"Don’t waste your breath on a 'howdy do!'
To Old Man Scrooge!
He’ll keeping walking right past you.
That’s Old Man Scrooge!
When they see him passin’ by
Children hide and babies cry!
Listen to me
Just leave him be!
Old Man Scrooge!

"Squeezing, wrenching, grasping, clutching!
Beggars never asked him for a dime!
Wheezing, scraping, cursing, cussing!
No one even asked him for the time!

"Hard as flint! Cold as snow!
Carries a chill wherever he goes!
Dogs turn rail! Babies cry!
He Hasn’t got time for you or I!

"Who’s that comin’ down the street?
That’s Old Man Scrooge!
Hurry! Make a fast retreat!
That’s Old Man Scrooge!
Don’t you dare to wish him well
Or he’ll tell to you to Hell--

"There’s no doubt
He’ll chew you out!
That’s Old Man Scrooge!"

Even though"A Southern Christmas Carol" moves Dickens' classic story to the rural American south and changes the time period to the 1930's and the era of the Great Depression, the show is, nevertheless, more faithful to the ideas, themes and content of the original book than are most of the more traditional theatrical adaptations of the story.

Above: Old Man Scrooge (Peter Lewis--far left) freezes passer-bys on the street with his frosty glare in the musical number "That's Old Man Scrooge." (From the 2004 Cotton Hall Production of "A Southern Christmas Carol.")

FRED: Nephew & Good Ol' Boy

In most dramatized versions of Dickens' classic story, the emphasis is put on Scrooge's relationship with his poor clerk, Bob Cratchit, and Bob's crippled son Tiny Tim. But if one returns to Dickens' original novel one will find that in the story's plot Scrooge never actually meets Tiny Tim. According to the plot of the story, Scrooges' most personal relationship is with his nephew Fred.

(Above: Patrick Stewart and Dominic West--as Fred--in the 1999 film version of "A Christmas Carol.")

In the original story Fred is the son of Scrooges' beloved dead sister, Fan. Scrooge has never been close to Fred, and Fred's recent martiage to a girl of whom his uncle disapproves has caused an even greater rift in their relationship. The story begins with Fred stopping by his uncle's office to invite the old man to Christmas dinner with him and his wife. Scrooge, of course, rejects the invitation which hurts and frustrates Fred. After Scrooge is redeemed, one of the last scenes in the plot is Scrooge showing up for Christmas dinner at Fred's home. The uncle and nephew are at last reconciled. "A Southern Christmas Carol" returns to these original plot elements from Dickens' novel.
(Pictured above: Old Man Scrooge is reconciled with his nephew Fred and his wife in the 2004 production of "A Southern Christmas Carol.")

In the original story Fred is presented as an average middle class young English gentleman. While good natured and open-hearted, Fred also has a sly sense of humor and a dry wit.

(Above: Barry MacKay as Fred in the 1938 film version of the story.)

In "A Southern Christmas Carol," Fred remains an average middle-class young man--good natured and open-hearted with a sly, dry sense of humor. But now he is a Southerner...something of a "good ol' boy," but in the best sense of the word. Looking to the 1930 icons of the American stage and screen, the role was written with a young Jimmy Stewart type in mind.

(Above: Jimmy Stewart as the quintessential idealistic young American male in Frank Capra's immortal 1939 film classic "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.")

True, Stewart was no Southerner (though later in his life he played in plenty of Westerns and rural dramas), but he was a unique average-Joe American type. During the Depression he emerged as one of the most popular young actors in film, and by the 1940's had become the embodiment of the idealistic young American male--usually funny and good natured, often times cranky, but always sincere. The talented Matt Gibson (below) perfectly captured this quality of the character in the 2005 prodouction of "A Southern Christmas Carol."


The character of Bob Cratchit is one of the most famous characters that Charles Dickens ever created. It probably seems impossible to imagine any version of "A Christmas Carol" without Bob.

However many literary scholars and Dickens experts have difficulty with Bob. He seems too much of a cliche; he does not come across as a real, complexed character. Bob seems to be more of a "story device"--more of a symbol for poor people everywhere than a real person in and of himself. In writing his story, Dickens was trying to make a social statement about poverty and the English class system that offered little hope to help the poor.

"A Southern Christmas Carol" tranfers Dickens' original story to the American South during the Great Depression. At that point in American history most Americans were struggling financially. But the one segment of the population who were the most impovershed were African Americans. The Jim Crow laws of the Southern states were designed to keep black Americans in poor, politically powerless and in low-income jobs. "A Southern Christmas Carol" takes the bold step of turning Bob Cratchit--a poor English white man--into a single black woman trying to support herself and a polio-crippled son.

Peter Lewis as Old Man Scrooge and Allison Upshaw as Eppie

in the 2003 production of "A Southern Christmas Carol."

Eppie is Old Man Scrooge's housekeeper. She is always present in his every day life, and yet he knows virtually nothing about her. Such was the reality of black and white Americans under Jim Crow laws in the South.

Again looking to popular actors of the 1930s, the character of Eppie was inspired by the lengendary actress Ethel Waters (pictured above in 1939.) One of the first great African American stars in Broadway history, Ethel Waters was a gifted comedian, a powerful singer and grew into one of the great dramatic actresses of the first half of the 20th century. In the 1940's she starred in the classic MGM film musical "Cabin In the Sky." In the 1950's she starred on Broadway in the classic Southern drama "Member of the Wedding."

The talented Atlanta-based actress and singer, Allison Upshaw (pictured above and below) created the role of Eppie in the original productions of "A Southern Christmas Carol."


In the opening scene of Dickens' original story, two gentlemen visit Scrooge's office asking him to donate to charity. In the text, this two characters are described as "portly gentlemen, pleasant to behold." Traditionally they are portrayedas warm, smiling, proper British gents--as pictured above and below.

In "A Southern Christmas Carol" these characters are transformed from two portly English gentlemen into a married couple whom the script identifies simply as the Missionary Man and Missionary Lady.

These missionaries are a unique American (and Southern) character type. Obviously dedicated and completely sincere in their quest to help those suffering from the Great Depression, they nevertheless have the flair and showmanship of talented salesmen or entertainers. When they enter Old Man Scrooge's office, they take over the space, launching right into their prepared pitch, smiling warmly the entire time.

There are many stereotypes of religious Southerners from the period of the Great Depression--such as the character Elmer Gantry. Such characters are often portrayed as charlatans or con artists--or worse yet as backwards thinking bigots. Too often overlooked is the fact that there were devout Christian missionaries working in the rural South and Midwest in the 1930s who were decicated to advancing the rights of women, of the poor and of black Americans. These missionaries were part of the Social Gospel movement. On the outside one might assume that such missionaries were politically conservative, but in actuality they tended to be somewhat left of center. (Remember the Great Depression was also the era of the New Deal.) As Christians they believed that they had been called to fight poverty and injustice.

A group of Social Gospel Missionaries from the 1920's

Jimmy Bishop as 'Missionary Man' in the original 2003 production

Social Gospel 'Missionary Ladies' in the 1930's

Karen Beyer as 'Missionary Lady' in the 2003 & 2004 productions

One such group was the Women's Home Missionary Society of the Southern Methodist Church. Not only did this organization work tirelessly to help the poor, but they worked to advance better education and civil rights for black Americans. This organization served as the inspiration for the fictional "National Social Outreach Missionary and Tract Society--Southeast Division" which the Missionary Man and Lady represent in the show.

Peter Lewis, Karen Beyer & Jimmy Bishop in the 2003 production

The Missionaries' first scene with Scrooge is mostly humorous: they find it impossible to warm his cold heart despite their best efforts, and they are truly horrified the poor taste of his attempts at humor. Later--when the Ghost of Christman Future shows Old Man Scrooge the tragic outcome of Eppie's life after the death of her only son--the Missionaries appear again, this time in a more serious scene, and offer help to the woman.

Allison Upshaw & Karen Beyer in the 2003 & 2004 productions


In Dickens' oirginal story, when Jacob Marley's ghost appeares he lays out for Scrooge what amounts to a sort of "theology" regarding to what happens to the spirits of the wicked when they die: because these spirits never 'wandered' out among their fellow men while alive, attempting to relieve human suffering, they are now consigned to wander the earth, witnessing human suffering but tortured by the realization that they are now unable to offer any assistance.

In "A Southern Christmas Carol," these ideas related directly to the audience through the song "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked." Here are the lyrics:

"There ain’t no rest for the wicked
Even when they’re dead!
There ain’t no rest for the wicked,
They’re doomed to wander instead!

"There ain’t no rest for the wicked!
They got no eternal home!
Weepin’ and wailin’ and gnashin’ their teeth,
The wicked are doomed to roam!

"You can lay ‘em in a coffin
And nail down the lid
But you just can’t keep a bad man down!
You can plant ‘em in the ground
But their spirit’s not there!
No, you just can’t keep a bad man down!

"Forced to wander
Weighed down by sin!
Moanin’ and groanin’
For the mess that they’re in!
Forced to wander
On the wings of the wind!
No, you just can’t keep a bad man down!

"There ain’t no rest for the wicked!
Ain’t no rest at all!
Ain’t no rest for the wicked!
The wicked are the weariest of all!"

When this song was first performed for Steve Hacker (the arranger and pianist for the show's original 2003 production), he remarked: "This sounds more like a Halloween song, than a Christmas song." And, indeed, that was the intention.

Southern culture has a long tradition of ghost stories. Especially in the African American and Cajun cultures of the Deep South, one finds religious and folk-magic traditions thay mingle such infleunces as evangical Christianity, Catholicism and voodoo. This mixture is found, particularly, in the area of New Orleans--the city that, more than any other, in the first decades of the twentieth century developed Jazz, the Blues and Dixieland Jazz.

The feel of "Ain't No Rest For the Wicked" is reminiscent of Louis Armstrong's early 1930's hit, "The Skeleton In the Closet" (pictured below.)

OLD MAN MARLEY: The Ghost With Drag Bags

One of the most famous images from English literature is that of Marley's Ghost dragging chians to which is attached a long line of money boxes. Having lived his life fetterd to concerns of buisness and money, indifferent to human suffering, Marley is now weighted down for eternity by symbols of the life he lived.

In "A Southern Christmas Carol," Old Man Marley ran a cotton gin, and so when his ghost appeares he is chained to a long line of drag bags.

(Above: Nick Mannix as Old Man Marley in the 2005 production of "A Southern Christmas Carol.)

Drag bags (in the photo below) were used by people picking cottons. The bags--made of burlap or some similiarly rugged fabric--were worn over one's shoulder and were long enough to drag on the ground for several yards behind one. This allowed a field hand to fill it with many pounds of cotton. The bags, of course, grew increasingly heavy as filled, and the made job of hand picking cotton (which grows on a thorny bush) even more unpleasant.


Blog to come


"Church bells are ringing,
Carolers are singing,
The blues start to descend,
But all through the lonely silent night
I tell myself everything’s all right
‘Cause I don’t care if it’s Christmas time again.

"At parties they’re dancing,
And some are romancing
While ringing the holiday in.
But I laid alone all Christmas Eve
Just trying to make myself believe
That I don’t care if it’s Christmas time again.

"Oh, But when I fell asleep
I had A dream so sweet
About the home to know.
It was a midnight clear,
Loved ones drew me near,
My tears started to flow
Because I almost believed it was so.
What do I know?

"Well, I’ll tell you….

"I know when I woke up
I started to choke up
And so I forced a big grin.
I said, “Hey, it’s just another day,”
While fighting the urge to kneel and pray
That heaven would send someone my way
Who’d make me care that it’s Christmas time
—I want to care that it’s Christmas time!
Some make me care that it’s Christmas time again.

"Please make me care that it's Christmas time again."

Here is the song as originally performed in the 2003 Cotton Hall produciton.

Below is the song as performed in the Southwest Arkansas Art Center's Production of "A Southern Christmas Carol."


Post to come


Post to come


"You never said a word,
You never said a single thing
To reveal your heart’s no longer mine.
And yet without a word
In everything little thing you do
Something’s changed that I can not define.

"Of course you’ll say that that’s absurd,
Insist you haven’t changed towards me,
Though you know you’re not the man you were.
And if I take you at your word,
Ignore what you refuse to see
In the end we know what will occur

"You’ll never say a word,
You’ll never say a single thing
About the bitter truth we never faced.
But still you’re sure to know
As surely as I know it bow
In your heart my love has been replaced.

"So not another word;
Let me save those years for you.
Not another word;
I’ll always love the man I knew,
And if you feel pain, for goodness sake,
Mind your heart, Dear; please don’t let it break.
For one day you may need it,
Though you may not think so now;
I pray one day you’ll heed it
And that it will teach you how
Love is more than words.
We both need more than words.

"I hope you’re happy in the life you’ve chosen it."


Bootleggers, booze and Holiday Spirits--post to come


"Why this panic in the air,
With people hustling here and there?
Why the lines in every single store?
In the bustling, crowded aisles
Why are shoppers apt to smile
When you knew their feet are tired and sore?
And why at this time every year
Is there an increase in cashiers?
Why this madness? What could be the cause?
It's simple! It's all because of Santa Claus!

"What possesses you and me
To bring inside a full grown tree
And plant it in the middle of the floor,
Deck it out with lights and balls,
Popcorn--anything at all,
When we're told that less is always more?
And why then stuff ourselves with sweets,
Found in clothing for our feet?
Why this madness? What could be the cause?
It's simple! It's all because of Santa Claus.

"Christmas once was merry,
With carols, wreaths and holly,
But thanks to one old gentleman
It now is twice as jolly!

"Why do kids do as they should,
Why are they so awfully good
On the days approaching Christmas Eve?
As they're snuggling in their bed,
With visions dancing through their heads,
Why are they so eager to believe
That every bumping in the night
Is proof of reindeer taking flight?
Why such gladness? What could be the cause?
It’s simple: it’s all because of Santa Claus!"


Post to Come


In "A Southern Christmas Carol," the character of the child Tiny Tim becomes Eppie's polio-afflicted young adult son Tim, who is nicked-named 'Tiny.' In this version the nickname is meant to be something of a gentle joke since Tim--despite his handicap--is a tall young man. Looking to Southern literature of the period (the Depression), the character of Porgy (from the novel of the same name...which later became immortal in Gershwin's opera "Porgy & Bess") served as the inspiration.
Whereas in the original Bob Catchit and Tiny Tim are but two members in a large family, in "A Southern Christmas Carol," Eppie and Tiny live alone in poverty--each dependent emotionally and financially on one another. Tiny is the most important thing in Eppie's world--which makes his death later on all the more devastating.
Whereas Eppie's sufferings and misfortunes have left her somewhat cynical, Tiny retains optimism and faith. He epxresses this in the song "God Bless Us Everyone"--even while acknowledging the adversities that he and his mother have experienced.

In Dickens' original story, he includes the following when describing the Cratchits' Christmas dinner:

" All this time the chestnuts and the jug went round and round; and by-and-bye they had a song, about a lost child travelling in the snow, from Tiny Tim, who had a plaintive little voice, and sang it very well indeed."

In "A Southern Christmas Carol" Tiny begins his song using the symbolism of a traveling child lost the snow; he continues by evoking a prayer for his absent father, for Eppie, and then evokes a blessing on humankind in general--using images found in the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament gospels:

Sometimes don't you know
I feel just like a child lost in snow:
Cold and numb
From where I've come
But not knowing where to go.
When I get to feeling
Like I belong nowhere,
And my soul yearns for healing
I say a little prayer:

God bless my mama
Who was always there for me,
Forgive my daddy
For not bein’ what he should be.
When I’m blind and bitter
Give me eyes that I might see.
God bless us everyone!

Bind up the wounds
Of those in pain,
And those who hunger,
Fill them up again.
As for the captives,
Free them from their chains.
God bless is everyone!

Sometimes it’s tempting
To think about your life
As nothing’ but a tale of woe.
Yes, you’ve have heartache,
Anger, pain and strife
But if you’re strong
Despite the wrongs
You’ll be a victor don’t you know!

Lord, give us hope
To see beyond our tears!
Lord, give us wisdom
To last throughout the years!
Give is the courage
To conquer sin and fear!
God bless us everyone!
Redeem us!
God bless us everyone!


Though Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" is one of the most beloved books in English literature, there is one aspect of the story with which even the most admiring literary scholar have issues : the characterizations of Tiny Tim and Bob Carchit's family. Simply put, many consider this aspect of the story to simply be too sweet--too "saccharine."

The suffering and death of a small cippled child is something that would play on the emotions of most people; but as he some times did his other works, Dickens relies on this manipulation of emotions without presenting the Crachits as complexed fully developed characters. This is rather astonishing since one of the things that Dickens does so brilliantly in the book is to take a stereotypical grouchy old man (Scrooge himself) and pull back the layers to reveal a complexed, tragic human being with whom the readers can sympathize.

In the famous Crachit family Christmas dinner scene, Bob offers a toast to Scrooge, but his wife--scornful of the old miser--at first refuses to comply. Eventually Bob persuades her to join him in a toast. Since Bob is mistreated daily by Scrooge, his character comes across as rather shallow; he seems too good to be true.

In "A Southern Christmas Carol" the characters of Eppies and Tiny replace the characters of the Crachits.

Rather than being a small crippled child, Tiny is a young man--portrayed by a actor in his late teens to early twenties--crippled from polio. (This characterization was inspired by another famous characters from Southern fiction: Porgy--from the novel "Porgy," which in the 1930's served as the basis for the Gershwins' opera "Porgy & Bess.")

Since Tiny is a young adult rather than a small child, he is a companion to Eppie in addition to being a mere dependent: they can discuss things, have differences of opinions, relate to one another as two adults instead of merely as a parent and child.

When Tiny first appears, he is returning home after Christmas Eve church services. He is a young man who is deeply influenced by his faith.

Eppie, on the other hand, does not attend church but stays home to cook Christmas dinner. When Tiny mentions that the preacher delivered "quite a sermon," Eppie remarks, somewhat sarcastically, "That one always does." It become evident through the scene that Eppie--for reasons that are never spelled out--is uncomfortable with church and the local church community. While she obviously loves her son dearly (her entire life revolves around him) she does not share his religious convictions.

Later in the scene, Tiny wonder aloud what his father might be doing. Tiny's father is completely absent; no details of his relationship with Eppie or Tiny are given. Eppie reacts negatively to Tiny bringing up the subject of the man. "Tiny, why do you wanna go bring him up?" she asks. Though no details are given regarding her relationship with Tiny's father (were they ever married; did he desert her; was he abusive) it become obvious that Eppie's relationship with the man is still a source of great sorrow.

It is Tiny who offers a toast to Old Man Scrooge over Christmas dinner--which outrages Eppie. When Tiny says that if not for Scrooge they wouldn't have all that they have, Eppie retorts: "No, boy! If not for your Mama busting her backside for that mean old cracker we wouldn't have none of this!" Tiny eventually persuades Eppie embrace the spirit of the Christmas season and toast Old Man Scrooge. Reluctantly Eppie gives in to her son, remarking: "You got a way about you boy. You should have been a preacher."

By presenting tension between two characters who are emotionally dependent on one another, a more realtistic family dynamic is portrayed in "A Southern Christmas Carol." Scenes that are simplistic and characters who are rather one dimensional in the original Dickens story become more complexed and believable in "A Southern Christmas Carol."

Later in the show, Scrooge is shown Eppie's future by the Ghost of Christmas-Yet-To-Come. Tiny has died, and Eppie--broken hearted and completely alone in the world--turns to drinking. In Dickens' original tale, Bob and his family are heartbroken over the death of Tiny Tim, but turn to one another emotionally and some how survive the tragedy. In "A Southern Christmas Carol." Eppie has no family or faith to fall back on; her loss drives her to self-destruction.

Witnessing this, Scrooge--for the first time--feels sincere empathy for Eppie. Having lost loved ones earlier in his life (and having become bitter and withdrawn as a result), he sees the same thing happening to Eppie. Suddenly she is no longer simply "the colored girl who works for me." He begins to see her as a fellow human being.


Post coming soon.


(Above: Rubin Singleton as The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come

in the 2003 and 2004 productions of "A Southern Christmas Carol.")

This post is "Yet To Come" very soon.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


"Old Man Devil don’t like Christmas;
It’s his least favorite time of year.
All that talk of “peace on earth,”
Leaves him feelin’ blue I fear. Usually he spends ChristmasDepressed and all alone,
But this year he’s
Feelin’ cheery
‘Cause one of his own
Is comin’ home.

"Satan’s havin’ company this Christmas--
A dear friend you all know!
It’s sad he passed away
On such a cold day
But I hear it’s warmer where he’s sure to go!

"Satan’s makin’ merry this Christmas!
Hades flames will leap a little higher!
Hell is gonna be a mite warmer this year
‘Cause soon there’ll be more fuel for the fire!

"Satan won’t care if the angels are rejoicing’
Singin’ of peace and good will.
With folks like my late friend
He has hope that end in the end
He’ll beat the Hosts of Heaven still!

"Satan’s gonna celebrate this Christmas!
Hell’s bells ring out a merry tune!
All the demons down below
Laugh a jolly “Ho-ho-ho!”
‘Cause company is comin’ soon!

"Satan’s havin’ company this Christmas!
Someone he can’t help but love:
A man after his heart,
A miserable old fart
Who thumbed his nose at heaven above!

"Satan might be happy this Christmas,
But I fear that soon he gonna grieve,
With company like our friend
I predict that in the end
He’ll be miserable by New Year’s Eve!

"The devil once went down to Georgia
To peek in on his favorite child:
A cranky old jack-ass
Whose time has finally passed,
So Satan just can’t help but smile—

"Because his boy is comin’ down this Christmas!
Satan now sings a different tune!
The unholy trinity
Join in three part harmony
‘Cause company is comin’—
Hades in a-hummin’—
Company is comin’ soon!"

(Lyrics copyright 2003 by Rob. Lauer. All rights reserved.)

Charwomen, Hoo-Boos & Hoover-ville

"Had me a mean ol’ dog
As useless as he could be!
Couldn’t hunt and wouldn’t fetch,
He was always snappin’ at me!
Didn’t want to waste a bullet,
So I let hum live till he died.
Now his carcass lies on some back road
And he’s food for the birds of the sky!

"Black bird, buzzard, fly this way!
Scavenger Crow, you fly here, too!
That mean ol’d dog has upped and died!
Now there’s victuals waitin’ for you!
Even a useless critter’s got uses once he’s dead,
Black birds, buzzards, scavenger crows
And all their kinfolk need to be fed.

"Had me a feral cat
As wild as she could be!
Wouldn’t purr when I stroked her fur,
She was always clawin’ at me.
I was too afraid to touch her,
So I let her live till she died.
Now her carcass litters some back lot
And she‘s food for the birds of the sky!.

"Black bird, buzzard, fly this way!
Scavenger Crow, you fly here, too!
That mean ol’d dog has upped and died!
Now there’s victuals waitin’ for you!
Even a useless critter’s got uses once he’s dead,
Black birds, buzzards, scavenger crows
And all their kinfolk need to be fed."

The "God Bless Us Everyone" Finale

"Sometimes it’s tempting to think about your life
As nothing but a tale of woe.
Yes, you’ve had heartache, anger, pain and strife,
But if you’re strong despite the wrongs
You’ll be a victor, don’t you know?

"Hark! All you angels!
Lift your voices sing!
Come, all you shepherds!
Greet the newborn king!
Rejoice, you wise men!
Light and life he brings!
God bless us everyone!

"God, save your children
From sorrow, death and fear!
Come! Heal the nations!
Wipe away all tears!
Bring peace on earth
To last a thousand years!
God bless us everyone!
Redeems us!
God bless us everyone!"



Jimmy originated the roles of the Missionary Man and the Ghost of Christmas Present in the 2003 production.


An Atlanta-based comedian, voice-over artist and actor, Ryan took over the roles of Missionary Man and the Ghost of Christmas Present for the 2004 production--and also took on the role of Old Man Marley's Ghost.


In the 2005 production, NYC-based actor Nick Mannix took on the role of Marley's Ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Present and Old Man Wiggins. As Old Man Wiggins, Nick's inventive little jig in the Act 1 Christmas party scene was a sight to behold.