'Invasion Christmas Carol' at Dad's Garage takes the classic tale and spins it on its head

An annual production at Dad's Garage hilariously derails a theatre classic with its phenomenally popular 'Invasion Christmas Carol.' (Courtesy of Meg Ansteensen)

Every holiday season, storytellers revive “A Christmas Carol,” the best-loved work of the great Victorian novelist Charles Dickens. The annual production at Dad’s Garage Theatre carefully sets the stage for the cold-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge’s redemption, and then entirely derails it!

Invasion Christmas Carol” is a phenomenally popular tradition at Dad’s Garage where bizarre, unthinkable characters invade the famous tale, surprising even the actors on stage. Maged Roushdi directs this year’s “Invasion Christmas Carol” and joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom, along with Karen Cassady, who plays Ebenezer Scrooge.

Interview highlights:

How “Invasion Christmas Carol” works:

“We have a stellar cast this year. We go into rehearsals, just rehearsing a traditional theatrical version of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ and that’s what we’re doing up until about a week before we open, and we have it down. There’s sets, there’s costumes, there’s lighting design. We do production meetings. We learn our lines. We try to get it as perfect as possible,” explained Roushdi. “Then, every night for the performance, an improviser invades as a character that the cast has no idea who it’s going to be, and that improviser’s job is to try to derail the show as much as possible.”

“We go to great lengths to make sure [the actors] are surprised, and in fact, the invaders are locked away in a separate dressing room from the rest of the cast. Then, once the invader comes out to give an opening speech for the show, all of the cast is locked up backstage, and there’s a sort of an ‘invader cast shuffle’ that we do. The cast doesn’t see the invader until the moment they step out on stage,” Roushdi said.

On the tall order of keeping Dickens’ story intact under bizarre circumstances:

“I find it more challenging, because you have to… stick in the confines of the show. I mean, there’s parts where you can play around with it, but there’s definitely parts that we have to keep – like Scrooge getting redeemed, or Tiny Tim, that whole moment,” said Cassady. “You have to keep those in there while working in what the improviser is trying to relay to the story, so it can definitely be challenging.”

“A surprisingly disruptive one last year was Paul Bunyan, who would seem like a normal, fun folklore character to get involved with, but just the improviser that was playing him has a disruptive, mischievous personality. It ended up being one of the crazier shows that we got into,” said Roushdi. “When it works best is when we take the world of the invader and wrap that into the redemption arc of Scrooge, and we got there in that show. It turned out that Paul Bunyan was Scrooge’s boss that wanted to fire him from his job.”

Roushdi and Cassady’s favorite invaders from productions past:

“I remember one of my years watching – I think watching it, I don’t even know if I was in it, I might have been in it – but a hot dog invaded,” recalled Cassady. “Just a hot dog. It was Kevin Gillese, and he was just like, ‘I’m a hot dog,’ and we had to make that work.” Roushdi added, “I think they ended up eating the hot dog at the Cratchit dinner at the end.”

“Last year we had 11 improvisers invade as the Harlem Globetrotters,” Roushdi said. “It was complete chaos in the best way possible. And to me, I actually used to play a lot of basketball in high school… When I actually got to, as Scrooge, to hold the basketball, I did some basketball tricks, and it was a serendipitous moment that no one was expecting.”

“Invasion Christmas Carol” is on stage at Dad’s Garage from Dec. 2 – 30. Tickets and more information are available at https://www.dadsgarage.com/ixc