Henry David Clarke and 
Dan Pintauro in A Queer Carol
(Photo: Ron Peaslee)
Henry David Clarke and
Dan Pintauro in A Queer Carol
(Photo: Ron Peaslee)
'Tis the season to be queer. Or, at least that's what it seems like in New York, which boasts a plethora of gay and lesbian holiday shows this year. Playwright Joe Godfrey gets into the Christmas spirit with A Queer Carol, a decidedly gay take on Charles Dickens' tale of a miserly old man who finds redemption on Christmas Eve through a series of ghostly visitations.

This adaptation is surprisingly effective, infusing the holiday classic with camp sensibility without losing the spirit and meaning of the story. In Godfrey's version, Ebenezer "Ben" Scrooge (John Marino) is a successful but stingy interior designer. Bob Cratchit (J.D. Lynch) is his underpaid assistant, lacking health care insurance for himself and his HIV-positive lover, Tim (Dan Pintauro of Who's the Boss? fame). When the ghost of Scrooge's former lover and business partner Jacob Marley (Henry David Clarke) shows up, laden down with chains, Scrooge notes: "You were always into bondage, Jake."

At times, the playwright gets a little too cute and predictable with his jokes. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Cynthia Pierce) turns out to be Marilyn Monroe. This, in itself, is not a problem, but Godfrey then peppers all of the character's speeches with cheesy references to Monroe's life and career. In her short time on stage, we're told that some like it hot, diamonds are a girl's best friend, gentlemen prefer blondes, and so on.

The show is not all laughs: Godfrey layers his tale with serious subject matter. One of the flashback scenes features Scrooge as a 10-year-old boy with artistic inclinations, encouraged by his mother but not by his alcoholic father, who hurtfully remarks that he has "a son and daughter in the same person." Dad's disdain has a lasting impact on Scrooge, who suffers from internalized homophobia.

A Queer Carol is constrained by the tiny playing space at the Duplex Cabaret Theatre, which includes a non-movable piano that forces the majority of the action to take place directly center stage in a semi-presentational manner. Director Mark Cannistraro has not completely solved this problem, and some scenes--particularly those with more than three people on stage at once--are awkwardly handled. But the talented ensemble cast members, most of them playing multiple parts, make up for the limitations of the staging with their well fleshed-out characterizations.

Pintauro, in particular, excels as the young Ben Scrooge. He evolves from an awkward adolescent, uncomfortable with his sexuality, to a ruthless businessman. The relationship between Ben and his unfaithful lover Jake is at the heart of this tale, representing the most radical departure from Dickens' story, which had Scrooge give up his one chance at true love in order to become rich and successful. Here, Ben and Jake consummate their love but are unable to sustain it. Both men have ambition and they hurt each other through their different ways of pursuing success. Ben makes his lover change his last name because it sounds too Jewish; Jake descends into a world of sex and drugs that alienates his partner.

There are other changes and updates to the original tale, most of which are well integrated. A Queer Carol is certain to displease purists, but purists probably wouldn't be likely to attend in the first place. For the rest of us, the show is a refreshing contemporary take on a classic story--full of laughter, but also full of heart.