Monday, January 11, 2010

“A Truly Phenomenal Southern Christmas Story”

By Barbara River Holmes

(From The Albany Herald [Albany, Georgia], December 5, 2003)

“As a dear friend would say, 'lovely.'" There is no other single word to describe the Colquitt/ Miller Arts Council's first professional production, 'A Southern Christmas Carol.' Though the mastermind of 1843's 'A Christmas Carol,' Charles Dickens himself couldn't have written a better account of the spirit of Christmas. At least not Christmas in 1933 Depression-ridden Southwest Georgia. 'Daddy's family lost everything in the war,' says Belle (Katie Wiegers), Scrooge's once fiancée, in a coy, sad and graceful Southern slur. 'The whole lot of them ain't nothin' but sharecroppers now.'"…Written by Rob. Lauer, musically arranged by Steve Hacker and choreographed by Atlanta's Karen Beyer, 'A Southern Christmas Carol' brings Dickens' tale of greed and giving one step closer to home, making Ebenezer Scrooge a wealthy cotton gin owner. 'Bah, horse hockey!' the cold-hearted Scrooge (Peter Lewis — fabulous! hilarious! believable!) groans before his transformation into a Christian man willing to give his money to help those, as he says, inflating the surplus population — that is, the poor. "Meant to explore some Southern themes like agriculture, racism and poverty, Lauer's play pays close attention to detail: cotton, overalls, accents, home-brewed liquor, biscuits, square dancing, gospel singing, Southern hostility and hospitality, “ain'ts” and hope chests, pork and collards. The 10-actor cast portrays 25 characters phenomenally, including the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet-To-Be, farmers and Scrooge's maid, a woman named Eppie whom the old man just calls 'girl.' ...'Yessuh, Mr. Scrooge sir,' she often replies as Scrooge beats her down with his demoralizing words of superiority. "…Though most of the world knows how Dickens' story ends, Lauer did such an excellent job of tailoring the original story to fit the South that one is eager to see how this story will end. The traditional and original music adds so much to Dickens' and Lauer's funny, sad yet inspiring story. Often the crowd was in laughter or tears. "…This season, treat yourself and your loved ones to something truly beautiful, honest and original and head to Colquitt for 'A Southern Christmas Carol.' You won't be sorry. I wasn't.”

(Pictured above) Top photo: Peter Lewis as Old Man Scrooge and Jimmy Bishop as the Ghost of Christmas Present in the original 2003 production of "A Southern Christmas Carol." Above right photo: Jordan Coughtry as Eb and Katie Weigers as Belle in the 2003 Cotton Hall Production. Bottom photo: Allison Spragin and Eppie & Sincee Daniels as Tiny in the 2005 Cotton Hall Production.

"Scrooge in South Georgia"

by Ed Corson
From "The Macon Telegraph" [Macon, Georgia] , Dec. 19, 2003)

"'Bah! Humbug!' Since Ebenezer Scrooge first spat out that angry phrase, in the pages of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," published 160 years ago come Sunday, those words have summed up the bitterness of Yule phobics, soured secularists and Christmas curmudgeons.

"The phrase is 'Bah! Horse hockey!' down in Miller County on the flat plains of southwest Georgia.

"I heard Old Man Scrooge say it on stage Wednesday afternoon. There, in "A Southern Christmas Carol," presented in Colquitt's Cotton Hall, Ebenezer Scrooge is a tight-fisted cotton gin owner, the richest and most hated man in a small Southern town in the Depression year 1933. The show is a fresh musical translation of the well-worn story of 19th Century London.

"I've seen other adaptations of the work; this one really works. It's faithful to the original in much of Dickens' dialogue, character drawing and events, but it shows a sensitive ear for southern talk, music and religious sensibility. As Clarence Jordan's "Cotton Patch Gospel" is to the New Testament original, so Rob Lauer's musical is to the original Dickens story and its stagings.

"It is also good fun, a hoot that warms the heart.

"…In this version, Bob Cratchitt and Tiny Tim are replaced by Eppie, a black maid, and her grown polio-lamed son, Tiny. The delegation soliciting for poor relief becomes an evangelical missionary couple seeking funds to minister to Depression victims. In place of the Londoners who discuss Scrooge are farmers. Jesus comes into the picture much more than in Dickens' original. But the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future are there, as are Scrooge's sister, fiance and nephew Fred. So are the three crones who scavenge his personal effects.

"Appalachian and African-American carols precede the show. Among the nine original songs are 'Ain't No Rest For the Wicked,' about Marley's ghost; 'It's All Because of Santa Claus,' 'God Bless Us Everyone,' and 'Satan's Having Company This Christmas'--an hilarious comment by a trio of farmers on Scrooge's supposed death."

Photo credits (from top to bottom): Rubin Singleton & Allison Spraigon in the 2003 Cotton Hall production; Andrew Frace & Peter Lewis in the 2004 Cotton Hall Production; Matt Gibson in the 2005 Cotton Hall Production; Karen Beyer in the 2003 Cotton Hall Produciton; Michael Mahany in the 2005 Cotton Hall Production