Review: Ben Scrooge Gets Jiggy in Q Brothers Christmas Carol at Chicago Shakes

Jacob Marley (JQ, center) and his crew of reggae spirits (Jax and Pos). Photo by Liz Lauren.

Review by Kathy D. Hey

What is this madness? Ebenezer Scrooge is alive in the Millennium and just as un-PC and crotchety as ever. Q Brothers Christmas Carol, directed by Q Brothers Collective members JQ and GQ, brings Charles Dickens’ tale to life and as in 1844, it is a tale of redemption but told in hip-hop phrasing that is deliciously erudite and witty. This adaptation is written by the Q Brothers Collective, developed with Rick Boynton. The collective members are listed as creators in this collaborative effort and also star as the various characters.

The set is simple and pared down with costumes hung on a fence in front of Chicago’s skyline as a cyclorama of lights. DJ Clayton Stamper and his turntable are a Greek chorus, in an aerie above the set playing music, changing costumes, and grooving to the sharp moves of choreographer Anacron. GQ interprets Ebenezer Scrooge as a man who has contempt for society and a zealous love of capitalism. He has a fetishized relationship with money and acquisition that is updated with riffs on the lower classes and crackheads. GQ dances and raps with slinky agility making the role a surreal vision. Ebenezer making a rap “stank face” embodies a mean old man. It is beyond “bah humbug!” when he sneers “chris-my-assmus.”

GQ as Scrooge. Photo by Liz Lauren.

This cast is at the top of its game at the art of pacing, beats, and delightful double entendre. The cast—except for GQ—plays multiple roles with a few wig and costume changes. Jackson Doran is a comic delight as Scrooge’s nephew Fred, the son of his late sister Franny. Doran’s comic chops are on point as Mama Cratchit wearing a hairnet full of foam rollers. I love the Swiftian gag about little Petey and his obsession with the stove. Doran switches between Mama Cratchit Video Hootchie moves, Dick Wilkins-stoner proprietor of the Wig and Weave empire, and Fred who labels Scrooge “Uncle Ben.” Doran says the word ‘bro’ and gives homage to the stoner genius of Cheech and Chong.

JQ plays the character of Jacob Marley as a man who is now trapped in his own hell. However, that hell is a hilarious Rastafarian spoof of all the things that Capitalist Marley despises. JQ is a wonder of verbal agility. He also plays Christmas Present, Belle Fuzzy (accountant and store manager for Wig and Weave tycoon/stoner Dick Wilkins), and aspiring rapper Lil’ Tim. In Dickens’ original story, it is not clear from what Tiny Tim suffers. The crutch is the focal point and alludes to the maladies of the day. In my childhood mind, I thought he had consumption as a baby because everybody had consumption in that era. Lil’ Tim lays it out with hilarious punctuation raps. He is missing a toe, has SARS, gout, scurvy, and Covid 20, the millennial consumption. The crutch, in this tale, is an MC’s mic and dancing prop for the Cratchit family talent show. If all you have is corn for dinner—there has to be a talent show.

Pos as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Postell Pringle brings the Run DMC era blazing back as Christmas Past. Pringle channels Daryl McDaniel’s’ muscle posturing as he tells Scrooge, “Don’t be a stankety-stank and come with me.” He has the most switching back and forth between Past, two Cratchits, and Fred’s charades-loving husband. His cheerful Bob Cratchit brings a pang of heartbreak into the play. The Cratchit family embodies love and faith in the original and in this presentation. Pringle also brings a soupçon of pathos to the Cratchit daughter Martha, who is a scholarship student and hope for the family future. Martha feels guilt at how poor the family is with bank notices looming and a piteous Christmas feast of corn. The character switch as Bob argues with Martha to not quit school is a welcome dash of slapstick.

Christmas Future is a group character. Future is a menacing apparition accompanied by the deep bass of house music and dub step. Future appears as a glow in the dark entity with a layered and disembodied voice. There is some levity mixed in as Scrooge’s former childhood friends note how empty the funeral was, as was the life of Scrooge. GQ skillfully handles Scrooge’s emotional and spiritual awakening. His cries of agony over the poverty of the Cratchits and his neglect of his faithful employee are properly heart wrenching. Lil’ Tim’s death is the emotional linchpin of his turnabout from misanthropic capitalist to empathy and generosity.

JQ as the Ghost of Christmas Present, surrounded by his crew (Pos and Jax). Photo by Liz Lauren.

Q Brothers Christmas Carol is a fun take on the dystopian side of capitalism just like the original. The show is now a Chicago tradition of farce, slapstick, and ribaldry with a surreal Schoolhouse Rock vibe. As a person who owns an original Rapper’s Delight on vinyl, I give all props to the Q Brothers ensemble and creators. This Christmas Carol gives homage and some deeply felt respect for the many genres and cultural contributions of what we call hip-hop music. I recommend this show as some naughty by nature fun for the whole family. Where else are you going to hear portmanteau used in a rap? Make it a new part of your holiday traditions.

Q Brothers Christmas Carol is playing through December 23 in the Yard at Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Ave. Running time is 80 minutes with no intermission. Get more information and buy tickets ($38-$56) at www.chicagoshakes.com/qchristmas.

Covid protocol. All audience members must show proof of full vaccination OR negative Covid test, either on a smartphone or a physical copy. (At‑home tests not accepted.) Photo IDs must be shown. Children ages 5‑11 will be admitted with proof of one vaccine dose administered at least 14 days prior to performance or negative Covid test. All audience members must wear masks at all times during their visit.

Guest author Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.

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