Scrooge meets ’The Nutcracker’ in LGBT Mash-up
Decades before the dawn of the mash-up, high concept-minded creative types were having their crossover ways with Dickens' enduring tale about a selfish man who comes to his senses after being taken on a tour of past misdeeds and future misfortunes.
Mister Magoo and Fred Flintstone both did some time as Scrooge... countless sitcoms have put their cast in the shoes of "Christmas Carol" characters... and two years before it became known as the go-to place for "Golden Girls" repeats, that relentless cheese factory known as Lifetime TV put its own memorable spin on the oft-told redemption tale (via Susan Lucci's female Ebenezer, in 1995's "Ebbie").
Over the years, Charles Rice-Gonzalez has seen his share of both traditional and unconventional takes on "A Christmas Carol" as well as that other hoary old holiday chestnut: "The Nutcracker."
Growing up, he remembers, "I'd organize my family to come down from the Bronx to City Center to see the Joffrey [Ballet's version of The Nutcracker]."
Although he speaks glowingly of the Joffrey's "Nut," it took seeing a friend's multicultural version in 2000 to get him thinking about how these liberal interpretations were coming up short.
"As a gay Latino person," Rice-Gonzalez recalls, "I didn't feel as if I was [represented] there...except as an audience member."
Borrows, steals and satirizes
That night, he returned from the multicultural (but not LGBT-inclusive) "Nutcracker" and began crafting a narrative with gay leads, a queer sensibility and a narrative that’s out and proud about the way it borrows, steals and satirizes much of what we know, love and dread about "A Christmas Carol" and "The Nutcracker."
The resulting stage production, now on the boards through December 15, has become a longstanding holiday tradition in its own right. Los Nutcrackers: A Christmas Carajo is enjoying its ninth year at BAAD! (The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance).
The story, Rice-Gonzalez explains, concerns a gay Latino couple. "This is pre-marriage," he notes, referencing the less queer-friendly era during which the play was written.
"Over 12 years ago," says Rice-Gonzalez, "There weren’t many gay holiday things going on. Now, drag queens are doing Christmas shows. Our community is claiming the holidays as well as redefining them."
Of the two queens who anchor "Los Nutcrackers," their creator describes them as a "conflicted couple who have been together for a long time. What I borrow from ’A Christmas Carol’ is that they get visited by spirits...but in this version, it’s only one spirit who takes them through their past to their present."
Asked why we don’t see their future, as Scrooge did (which of course closes the deal on turning the old miser into a generous soul), Rice-Gonzalez notes, "In my universe, the future doesn’t exist. They can’t go into the future. It can’t be given to them. They have to create it for themselves. What they do get from the past is [to revisit when] they fell in love; that pure pleasure and happiness. They come back to the present with the refreshed memory of those experiences."
It all boils down to "a story of love and relationships," he says, noting, "We always get a gay audience, but we also get lesbians and heterosexual couples. Very often, a wife will say, ’I’m the Carlos and my husband is the Gabriel.’ He’s the more male-minded. Carlos is, I guess, more like the woman...but they both have elements where those roles switch."
In gay relationships, "as in all relationships," Rice-Gonzalez asserts, "people are not just these archetypes. They have dimensions and contradictions. Gabriel is macho, but he’s very family-oriented. Carlos, you might consider nurturing...but he considers a ’family’ to be he and his lover."
In that manner, says the playwright, the story appeals to both gay and general audiences-since many of those who attend are couples who see their own struggles to recapture the past or mend the present. Those who’ve seen their own relationships grow and change over nine years of "Los Nutcrackers" have also seen the show evolve.
"We’ve brought different directors through the years," says Rice-Gonzalez, adding that each has brought their own interpretation to the work, while paying homage to elements that keep audiences coming back.
This will be the second consecutive year Mark Finley has been at the helm. Last year, the playwright recalls, "he added some outrageous set pieces. Some ’Nutcrackers,’ the ballets, have these huge furniture pieces, and he replicated that. This year, he scrapped that, and instead he’s using more movement and choreography."
Other directors have used video for transitions... and Jorge Merced’s 2010 version used a drag queen to keep things moving during set changes. Although not an element of the original script, Appolonia’s role has since been expanded and she’s an even more visible presence in the 2012 version.
Add to that a thug/diva spirit who takes our troubled boys from their 1986 meeting (at the Palladium, while dancing to Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam) all the way to a dinner party packed with Martha Stewart fanatics, and the playwright’s vision of taking straight up holiday tales and infusing them with LGBT identity is complete... and, year-to-year, subject to change.
Remaining performances of Los Nutcrackers: A Christmas Carajo are December 6, 7, 8, 14 & 15 at 8pm at BAAD! (841 Barretto Street in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx; take the #6 train to Hunts Point Avenue). Tickets are $25, with discounts for seniors, groups, Bronx residents and members of BAAD For reservations, call 718-842-5223 or visit brownpapertickets.com.