The path to becoming Ebenezer Scrooge is clearly laid out in Charles Dickens' timeless story "A Christmas Carol." He was a bookish lad with few friends; he loses faith when his beloved sister dies; money becomes more important to him than people; his girlfriend dumps him. Years later, all that's left is a lonely, flinty curmudgeon destined for the chains of limbo.
Ekundayo Bandele, founder of Hattiloo Theatre, adds another intriguing layer to the character's downward trajectory. In his play "If Scrooge Was A Brother," the central figure is also a black man.
Actor T.C. Sharpe ("Fences," "Joe Turner's Come and Gone") is a bullishly cruel "Eb Scroo," a slumlord who seems violently opposed to anything resembling happiness. With snow in the weather forecast, he decides it would be the perfect time to chain closed the homes of his late-paying tenants.
"But it's Christmas Eve!" says his assistant, Bob Cratchit (played by Frednardo D. Davis).
"It's Tuesday!" replies Scroo. "And tomorrow is Wednesday."
The play is similar to Dickens' story, except for the contemporary setting and the racial themes that emerge. Bandele's script strikes a number of earnest, powerful notes.
Jacob Marley, the only role model for the poor, fatherless Scroo, had all the things that Scroo wants for himself: to be powerful, rich and white.
In one scene that is as gut-wrenching as it is humorously acted, the young Scroo is at a Christmas party, sucking up to "Boss Marley" by telling him racist jokes. Meanwhile, Scroo's girlfriend sings a fragile Christmas carol, hoping it will turn his heart back to the spirit of the season.
Bandele's play hits the mark on several levels. Like the original "Christmas Carol," it reminds people what the holiday is all about: generosity, love, warmth and hope. But the show also illustrates how internalized racial self-hatred in one person can affect an entire community.
In that respect, "If Scrooge Was A Brother," is a worthy and intelligent script, and strongly performed by the cast. While the Christmas carols Bandele tosses into the show aren't essential to the plot, they are beautifully accompanied by Tamar Love on a cello.
'If Scrooge Was a Brother'
The play continues 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 26 at Hattiloo Theatre, 656 Marshall. Tickets are $12-$22. Call 525-0009.