Actress and playwright Marni Penning’s birthday is Dec. 23. She has what you could call a Christmas complex.
“When your birthday is during the holidays, you become obsessed with Christmas because it’s the only time of year that’s supposed to be about you, but it’s not,” Penning says. “You get swallowed up by the season.”
Even for those whose birthdays don’t fall near one of the world’s most famous birthdays, the holidays can be exhausting. It’s a lot of cheer, that’s all.
“I was really frustrated with the lack of adult fare around holiday times,” Penning says. “You’re always stuck seeing ‘The Nutcracker’ or something. They’re nice productions but, every year? Come on.”
These frustrations, along with Penning’s then-recent “really horrible” divorce, led Penning to write what would become “Carol’s Christmas,” her first full-length play, in 2003.
Pinky Swear Productions’ “Carol’s Christmas,” which will have its world premiere on Friday, is packed with salty language and mature content. Carol, the fictional protagonist, shares a birthday with Penning. She is a recent transplant to New York City, where “she got overwhelmed by all the possibilities outside her door and got hurt by a bad relationship,” Penning says.
Carol locks herself in her apartment and avoids her Christmas-obsessed family, including a sister with the Dickensian name of Marley. On Christmas Eve, Carol embarks on a Scrooge-like trek with the ghosts of Ex-Boyfriend Past, Ex-Husband Present and Partner-Yet-to-Be.
“A lot of us, to some extent, are disillusioned at the holiday season,” Penning says, “and want to see it twisted somehow. It’s very satisfying to take a story we know so well and turn it upside-down to comedic effect.”
Friday through Dec. 23 at Theatre on the Run, 3700 S. Four Mile Run Dr., Arlington. 703-943-7656. www.pinkyswear-productions.
Scrooge on Broadway
“A Broadway Christmas Carol,” opening Thursday, utilizes dozens of Broadway songs whose lyrics got a makeover by Kathy Feininger. The production features hits from shows such as “Avenue Q” and “Gypsy” with new, Scrooge-themed content.
Feininger’s three-person show is a sort of tradition unto itself, having enjoyed more than 300 performances from the District to Singapore since it premiered at Round House Theatre in 1998. It was written for three people, but can be done with more, and has been performed with casts of up to seven.
“A Broadway Christmas Carol” isn’t driven by a radical formula: Take a familiar melody, provide new lyrics and allow for entertaining tension between the original song and new words within it.
The turning of the straight play gives viewers an unexpected point of entry into a familiar story, Feininger says. “People relate to musicals because all of us want to be able to sing our thoughts.”
Feininger stresses her show’s loyalty to the source material. “What makes [an adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol’] successful is that you have to remain true to Dickens’s story. You cannot alter it. It is the greatest ghost story ever written.”
Thursday through Dec. 18 at MetroStage, 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria. 703-548-9044. www.