Troupe Boldly Goes into “Klingon Christmas Carol”

There are as many Christmas shows as there are stars in the winter sky. But there’s not another one like this.

In A Klingon Christmas Carol, Dickens’ classic is transposed into the language of Star Trek‘s best-known alien race, the proud and fierce allies of the Federation. This sounds like a sweet Yuletide treat for fans. And it is.

But a funny thing happens on the way to Qo’noS, the Klingon home planet. When you tell a story in another language, it morphs under the pressure of that culture’s values and perceptions. So not only does Scrooge become SQuja’, but the miser’s lesson in Christian charity becomes a coward’s discovery of courage and honor.

Playwright Christopher Kidder-Mostrom deserves a deep bow — not merely for writing the lines in fluent Klingon, but for recognizing that the story itself had to become Klingon. (Indeed, the narrator tells us, folks on Qo’noS consider this the original.)

Since few in the audience know  the Klingon tongue, projected supertitles — like those used in operas — kindly give the English for each line as it’s being spoken. (Or growled, or barked, as Klingon rings hard on human ears.) The supertitles also provide a rich field for humor, as the author hides many an Easter egg where the two cultures clash.

You may already begin to suspect that light as it sounds, this is no mere Christmas bonbon. And yes, in putting A Klingon Christmas Carol onstage the folks at Lit Live have taken on a task about as daunting as Handel’s Messiah.

The hardest part, interestingly, comes from the language. As an actor, you face a string of unfamiliar sounds to memorize; at the same time, you must learn what these sounds mean. This takes longer — and uses more areas of your brain — than learning lines in your own tongue. And it takes even longer to color these alien words with the shades of emotion your character is feeling.

Not every actor in the company reaches this level; many simply indicate one or two basic emotions, resulting in a lot of angry shouting (which was often true in Star Trek, too). But some meet the challenge admirably. The nimble Nick D’Alberto, as SQuja’, plays a full hand of exaggerated emotions like a silent film star; Paul Carpenter, as the Ghost of Kahless Present, ranges from booming authority to wheedling humor and melting empathy. And Larry Shilkoff moves clearly from reluctant ferocity as marlI (Marley’s ghost) to jolly hospitality as veSIwiq (Fezziwig).

Genevieve Levin’s costumes neatly capture the Mongol/Samurai look familiar to fans, and Morgan Keough, Bill Hedrick, and Kenosha Renay create a satisfying variety of Klingon visages. And an uncredited backshop genius gives us a Klingon bed that’s an even more exquisite instrument of torture than the TV series’ artists could devise.

The playwright and director have wisely opted to stage the tale (like most Carol  versions) as a series of scenes that are almost tableaux. This makes demands on the stage crew, who must shift some hefty set pieces between scenes, and the light and sound operators — who must hit all the cues, and pop each English supertitle onto the screen as the line’s being spoken in Klingon. The scene transitions and screen projections, a bit wobbly in preview, should be well tightened by opening night.

As you’d imagine, A Klingon Christmas Carol produces squeals of glee and long bouts of laughter from the fan base. And for those of us only passing familiar with the Star Trek franchise, the playmakers make shrewd use of English narration and supertitles — and our cultural knowledge of Dickens’ version — to take us on a delightful romp. (And perhaps nudge us to think about the need for courage and honor, as well as charity, in these times.)

A Klingon Christmas Carol is a West Coast premiere (and the author is in the cast!). But it’s only booked to run one weekend — so call at once to get on board for this journey to a distant star.
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A Klingon Christmas Carol, by Christopher Kidder-Mostrom (after the Charles Dickens story), directed by Robert Reeves.

Presented by Lit Live, at Santa Susana High School Performing Arts Center, 3570 Cochran St., Simi Valley 93063.

Friday (Dec. 15th) at 8:00,
Saturday (Dec. 16th) at 2:00 and 8:00.

Tickets: <www.litlivetheaterco.com>