Boxing day: A cautionary carol

Playwright Gwyn McAllister. — Photo by Susan Safford

The spirit of Christmas just can’t catch a break, and it’s been going on for generations. I blame Alvin and his chipmunk siblings. I mean, for years we had Bing Crosby and Gene Autry tenderizing us for the Christmas moment. Then Alvin and his chipmunk bros skittered across the national stage in 1958 and it’s been all downhill from there.

Sure, we’ve had some warning flags about the dangers of “cha-ching” replacing jingle bells, but it appears that we are open to new holiday traditions. Be honest: don’t the annual Black Friday shopper homicides bring “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” to mind?

Yet in the face of the annual appearance by the barbarians at the manger, lone, brave voices continue to protest. For example, now comes Oak Bluffs resident Gwyn McAllister with a culturally up-to-date and comedic sendup of the venerable “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.

Ms. McAllister’s one-act play, “Boxing Day: A Cautionary Carol” was performed last Friday evening for a crowd of 80 at the A Gallery in Oak Bluffs. Island musician Milo Silva warmed the crowd with the distinctly satisfying tones of his horsehead fiddle before play narrator and MC Wayne Greenwell took center stage.

Then, a cast of veteran Island actors made their points about the holidays and the human condition amid a clutch of belly laughs delivered with gusto.

Ms. McAllister has deftly pretzeled the Dickens plot into a modern-day version of the Christmas epic. Scrooge and Bob Cratchit are still the stars, but they are not your Fredric March and Basil Rathbone characters. John Ortman plays Scrooge as a hard-working mensch who employs Bob Cratchit, a self-absorbed millennial generation slacker played by Jesse Seward.

Pay attention here, dear reader: your established rooting interest in the classic Dickens version is re-arranged in Boxing Day. If you’re a millennial, don’t get off the couch. Someone will explain it to you later.

Scrooge is working hard to save his business. Cratchit is doing as little as possible. Bob has a penchant for ginning up extra holidays. He has made up a Nigerian dad to qualify for the Kwanzaa holidays, a Jewish mom to observe Hannukah’s eight days, and, of course, no one works during Christmas week.

When we meet the pair on Boxing Day afternoon in Scrooge’s midtown Manhattan offices, Cratchit is explaining his British roots in order to observe Boxing Day, a national holiday for the Commonwealth nations. Boxing Day’s antiquarian roots celebrate the Medieval Age tradition of the rich giving gifts to the poor on December 26.

Cratchit is the son of wealthy Upper Eastsiders. His nuclear family includes an absentee dad (Clark Maffitt) who throws money at relationships, a boozy, Valium-stoked mom (Megan Ward), and sister Timmy (Jane Loutzenhiser), an angry Goth teen.

Bob has come in to the office for his paycheck, not to complete an overdue business proposal that could save Scrooge & Co.’s bacon.

Later that evening, Bob is asleep under the spell of Johnny Walker Black when he is visited by an apparition. You may be thinking Jacob Marley. Nope. It’s Bernie Madoff (Buck Reidy) in the flesh.

Bernie has seen promise in the kid and has arranged some sort of Transporter furlough from the slammer to school young Cratchit in the ways of corporate trickeration. The scene is a wickedly delicious moment in Boxing Day. Mr. Reidy’s evangelical rendering of a jailhouse epiphany that has led him to Bob’s boudoir is the pivot point of Boxing Day’s message: cash value has put human values on the markdown rack.

For your edification, we’ll quote Bernie’s message from Boxing Day. “My mistake, Cratchit, was that I robbed from the rich. Bad move. The rich are powerful and they’ve got their protectors and they’ll cry louder than anybody if they’re crossed.

“Rob from the poor, my boy,” Bernie advised. “Loot the weak. There’s no one watching their backs. You don’t have to risk your neck like I did. There are just three things to keep in mind: Assume you’re smarter than everyone else. Don’t develop a conscience: conscience has no place in the world of high finance. And most important, think big.”

Through the miracle of the ghost of Christmas future, we see young Cratchit, slacker no more, putting aside his Xbox to become a world-beater. In fact, he buys Christmas. The whole brand and ancillary products. Want to wear jingle bell earrings? It will cost you $125. You want to sing jingle bells? $250 fee. All part of the magic of brand ownership.

Ms. McAllister delivers her message via subtle and over-the-top comic lines that work because we recognize the characters and stereotypes she portrays. Charles Dickens was a social reformer, appalled by living conditions in his mid-eighteenth century London. He was paid to write about them.

While he effected far-reaching social reform, Dickens is best remembered for “A Christmas Carol,” a redemption story fueled by Scrooge’s newly awakened feelings: old Ebeneezer got himself some Christmas spirit. Ms. McAllister informs that a second performance of Boxing Day on Dec. 26 is in the works. Watch this space for details.

Hope there is a reprise because, walking around the warm, welcoming A Gallery space, chatting with pals and colleagues, watching a friend’s creative work come to life, you sorta got the warm and fuzzies — that Christmas spirit, know what I mean?