The Actors’ Gang has a time-honored tradition of doing provocative work, often combining a deliberately over-the-top comedic style with serious political or moral content. This balancing act is a tricky one, and the Gang has been doing it well for a long time. The current “Aah! Scrooge Must Die!” is a rare misfire, a regrettable mess.
The show advertises itself as an “NC-17” adaptation of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” but it gains nothing and loses much from its supposed naughtiness. In this iteration, Scrooge (Scott Harris) is not merely miserly but also foulmouthed and racist. Initially, there’s some slightly amusing shock value in Scrooge’s deliberately offensive tirades, but very quickly they devolve into meaningless crudity. There’s also some simulated sex and offstage stabbing thrown into the mix, but these work neither as titillation nor indictment.
Harris’ perf as Scrooge consists of one note, a yowling bitterness, and his wide-eyed rants and gesticulations, which should be the main attraction of the play, are neither charismatic nor amusing. Justin Zsebe brings a crazed vitality to Marley, and Steven M. Porter is coldly effective as Gaffer Scrooge. The rest of the cast is unsuccessful in their attempt to pull together this confused show.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the concept of an “adult” version of “A Christmas Carol,” but playwright-helmer Angela Berliner finds nothing right with it, either. As an adaptation, it’s barely coherent, stringing scenes together so haphazardly that one never quite knows if it’s past or future, reality or a dream, a stream of unconsciousness that gradually becomes a stagnant puddle. Finally, after all the sex and language and general bile, Berliner actually tries to have it both ways and get serious at the conclusion of the show, directing her cast to sing a piously solemn song about the needy, a last-minute grab for meaning that comes off as calculated and hollow.