The ghosts of Christmas past in this story are none other than the Supremes, but don’t worry. You don’t have to be a Scrooge to get to see them yourself.
The Matrix Theater presents a timeless story this season, but it’s one that’s updated to fit the particularities of present day Southwest Detroit. Matrix has a habit of presenting plays that address issues going on in its neighborhood. Its current production, Puppet Scrooge, is no exception.
Ebenezer has been swapped out for a Senora Pecunia Scrooge. Her vice is still greed (the root of her name means money in Latin, after all), but her shop sits on Michigan Ave. The play still celebrates the holiday season, but the characters happen to celebrate Kwanzmacus (a Kwanza, Hanukkah, Christmas fusion) instead of the traditional Christmas. The script breathes new cultural air into a traditional play, and all is done to draw all kinds of people in. Sign language interpreters perform alongside every performance.
Puppet Scrooge is a musical puppet show hybrid. Between scenes, charmingly out of tune rats sing the story… all in traditional Christmas songs reworded to tell Pecunia’s story. Some other scenes call on the 60’s psychedelic sounds and some good old Motown. It’s really a mixed bag… fast paced and full of energy. Alongside the laughs, there’s social commentary, too. “I just found a job that doesn’t care I’m 14,” Tomito Cratchit’s sister says. “Now I can help pay for Tomito’s medicine.”
Amazingly, the show was all pulled together by people with little or no experience in puppetry. Auditions, like so many others at Matrix Theater, were open to the community. Some seasoned veterans were cast, but many others showed up just curious about what this show was all about. It was also director Meranda Stuart’s first puppet show.
In just four weeks the group held auditions, rewrote the script, set up the stage, blocked the performance, recorded the audio track, held dress rehearsals and opened a totally smashing show.
“It took five all-nighters,” Stuart admits. “The longest part was the audio work. All of the puppet actors were the voices, and some folks have never really done voice acting before.”
More than a hundred years after it was written, we always seem to come back to A Christmas Carol during the holiday season. I asked Meranda why it seems to be such an enduring story. “The takeaway is that there’s always a moment when you can make a choice to just be joyful no matter what,” she says. Even in Detroit and even when we experience things that leave us jaded and in pain or unhappy, there’s always the choice within us to be happy and to laugh. Out of the greatest pain, you can find the greatest calm.”
Puppet Scrooge is playing again this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (December 16, 17, 18). The box office will be open ahead of time, so you can call and reserve seats. For more information, visit http://matrixtheatre.org/
Photo credit: Karpov the Wrecked Train