'Tis the season for every American theater from Bangor to San Diego to mount their seasonal production of A Christmas Carol. But in Los Angeles, Sacred Fools Theater Company, in collaboration with theater of NOTE, is offering an alternative version of the classic story with its annual remounting of Bill Robens' A Mulholland Christmas Carol!, an original musical that tells the story of turn-of-the-century L.A. water services engineer William Mulholland -- who designed the St. Francis Dam that collapsed in 1928 killing over 600 people -- through the lens of Charles Dickens' classic holiday tale.
"Mulholland had such a tragedy toward the end of his life, but unfortunately, unlike Scrooge, he was unable to avoid it," says director Kiff Scholl. "His dream of bringing fresh water to Los Angeles absolutely overshadowed anything else. And for the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future to show Mulholland the error of his ways and allow him to avoid this tragedy seemed like a wonderful juxtaposition of two stories."
In this work, the character of Bob Cratchit is replaced by Harvey van Norman, Mulholland's assistant and a resident of Owens Valley, which used to be a community by a lake until all of the water from the Owens Rivers was diverted by Mulholland to quench the thirst of a thriving Los Angeles. "The Owens Valley Lake is still a dry lake bed," says Scholl. "When we toured with this show two years ago to the Owens Valley, they booed Mulholland and saw him truly as a Scrooge. Relatives of the characters in our play still live there and they still feel it."
Unlike those audiences, Scholl still approaches the story with a great deal of ambivalence. "Mulholland had the best intentions...well, perhaps not the best intentions, but he thought he had the best intentions for the city of Los Angeles," he says. "The fact of the matter is L.A. didn't necessarily have to exist as it does today, but I couldn't imagine this country without it."
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