Following in the tradition of their hip-hop Shakespeare adaptations—most recently the wildly successful Othello: The Remix, which will next be seen in January at Australia's Sydney Festival 2014—brothers GQ and JQ and their collaborators Jackson Doran and Postell Pringle turn their attention for the first time to Dickens. And in yet another example of the malleability of this tale of seasonal redemption, A Christmas Carol survives the makeover.
While the version being presented at Chicago Shakespeare Theater is billed as a work-in-progress, A Q Brothers' Christmas Carol comes across in largely good shape. The basic template matches that of their Othello: One of the four plays the central role (in this case, GQ as a crotchety modern Ebenezer "Neezy" Scrooge), with the other three each embodying a passel of characters via quick switches of costumes and wigs.
Their clever conceit for the ghosts that visit Scrooge has them suggesting a brief history of hip-hop: Jacob Marley is tortured by reggae, natch, while the first two spirits evoke the Adidas-tracksuited ’80s and ’90s West Coast gangsta rap, respectively. The spirit of the future, meanwhile, is wordless, menacing EDM.
The crew finds a number of canny, if occasionally glib, ways to translate Dickens's set pieces into their own modern milieu; Fezziwig's Warehouse, for example, becomes Fezzy's Wigs & Weaves (which leads to a terrifically tongue-in-cheek discourse on the matter of "wiggers").
If anything at this point in its development, A Q Brothers' Christmas Carol might be too eager to go for the broad, easy joke; it could use a bit more soberness in places. But so much of it works—particularly Pringle's jolly spirit of Christmas past, Doran's charades-obsessed Fred and JQ's winsomely sickly Li'l Tim Cratchit—that it's on its way to joining the pantheon of worthy Scrooges.