4 out of 4 stars
The Q Brothers Christmas Carol is back this season at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Set against a chain link fence shaped in the outline of the Chicago skyline, this modern take on Dickens’ holiday classic is truly a joy to experience. Ebenezer Scrooge, played by GQ, is an old miser who is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. After their visits Scrooge becomes a kinder and happier man. With an irresistible score, the originality of this piece and the insanely clever rhymes are a bold energizing kind of storytelling. This performance is full of heart and the evidence is obvious through the passion of the Q Brothers Collective, which is made up of GQ, JQ, Jackson Doran (Jax) and Postell Pringle (Pos). Directed by GQ and JQ, this production marks the third collaboration between CST and the Q Brothers following two Shakespeare adaptations that toured the globe – Funk It Up About Nothin’ and Othello: The Remix.
The performance takes place in CST’s new space, The Yard. This transformative theater allows the relationship between stage and audience to be redefined upon every individual production. Nine mobile seating towers can widen or compact the performing space alongside a plethora of stage arrangements. The Q Brothers performance is set in a cabaret style seating with a thrust stage making the line between actors and audience nearly absent. The quartet of actors cover the vast range of characters in Dickens’ work doubling up sometimes simultaneously two characters at once. Postell Pringle’s portrayal of Martha Cratchit and her father Bob Cratchit is hilarious and endearing of the destitute family. A quick access wardrobe of props and wigs hangs on the background fencing, but is not at all distracting with the flow of the performance. Jackson Doran plays Scrooge’s gay nephew Fred, Scrooge’s friend Dick Wilkins and Mama Cratchit. Doran shows such great expression through every moment and with a contagious enjoyment.
Developed along with CST's Creative Producer Rick Boynton, the major draw of this production is hands down the witty lines and inventive modernizations told through original music by JQ, who plays Marley, Belle, Ghost of Christmas Present and Lil’ Tim. JQ executes each portrayal with such versatility and hilarity. The talented Kieran Pereira disc jockeys on a platform upstage above the action playing out below. Between music and sound cues, Pereira will have you dancing in your seat between the side-splitting laughter you’ll experience. Accompanying the music is well designed choreography by the remarkable Anacron, whose work has ranged from teaching at Old Town School of Folk Music and professionally dancing for several decades. The physical space is maximized by the strong dance movements and balance between collective and solo sequences.
Themes from pop culture and cultural conventions are what drives this work to find so much success. It takes the familiar and flipping it on its head through subtle and not so subtle references. The opening prologue mimics the infamous “Triple Dog Dare” scene from the film A Christmas Story when a little boy is convinced to stick his tongue to a frozen metal street pole. Later those same children characters have scarf colors, which seem reminiscent of Disney’s McScrooge and his devilish nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie. These quirks allow the work to ascend into a personal realm for every individual by referencing pop culture in dress, as well as spitfire lyrics.
If it wasn’t enough that the music and acting were sensational, the lighting of this piece is something to behold. The impressive scale of the lighting in the Yard utilizes its lengthy overhead grid which allows a plethora of options in this intimate cabaret set up. Jesse Klug’s design of warm toned spots mixed with cool blue toned upstage lighting added a visually wild contrast. This juxtaposition keeps things light, entertaining and funky. The timing of the switches from spots to flood paired with the entire musical experience aided with the audience being completely immersed in this fictional artistic space the Q Brothers have created. This show is food for the soul and will have you wanting seconds! Q Brothers Christmas Carol is a new Chicago tradition and it would be a mistake to miss out this holiday season.
Q Brothers Christmas Carol runs in The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare through December 31, 2017. For more information and tickets, please visit www.chicagoshakes.com/QChristmas or call the Box Office at 312.595.5600
Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with dual degrees in English and Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!