The theater scene in Northern Virginia is a little slim this month, with most companies practicing shows that will open next year. What is available is quite heavy, a switch from the typical crowd-pleasing fare usually on stage over the holiday season.

The old favorites do remain, of course. Fauquier Community Theatre and Story Painters Inc. will bring us Scrooge, Tiny Tim and the turkey in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" (Dec. 11, 12, 18, 19 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 13 and 20 at 2 p.m.). Theatergoers have seen this play many times, but it remains as fresh as it was the first day, teaching all of us, no matter how old or how crabby, that we can redeem ourselves and change fate.

Hope and courage are also the message in "The Diary of Anne Frank," performed by the Northern Virginia Jewish Community Center (Dec. 10, 12 at 8 p.m. and Dec 13 at 2 p.m.). The well-known story of a young Jewish girl's struggle as she and her family hide from the Nazis during World War II is based on her diary entries. A mix of Frank's innocence and the hard reality of the world is an uplifting, though bleak, experience.

On a humorous note, a night spent with the able Fairlington Players and their production of "Noises Off" (Dec. 4, 5, 11, 12 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 6 at 2 p.m.) will send you into the heavens. The play-within-a-play comedy chronicles the zany mishaps of a third-rate British theater troupe, which manage to muck up everything, delightfully on purpose.

And, happily, two original plays are on the boards for December. The Wordstage Reader's Theatre will premiere "Rootabaga Country" (Dec. 4, 5, 11, 12 at 8 p.m.) by local playwright Jim Humphrey. For the whole family, the play is based on Carl Sandburg's whimsical "Rootabaga Stories."

The Little Theatre of Alexandria will premiere the winning plays of its "One Act Competition" (Dec. 4, 5, 11, 12 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 6, 13 at 2 p.m.), a national search for new playwrights. Three plays won, but LTA will perform only the first- and second-place winners because of the heavy themes of all the plays. "The Home Visit," by H.V. Argers, is a drama about a searing encounter between an elderly white man and a young black woman social worker, and "Fieldstone," by Alan Zuberbuehlen, concerns a volatile relationship between two brothers -- one successful, one not -- who are faced with the death of their father.