MIDVALE — Would you like to be serenaded with Christmas songs? What if a crack emcee was also entertaining your table with witty banter? And there was a steaming pile of barbequed meats on your plate? Then get yourself down to Salty Dinner Theater, the latest troupe in Utah to simultaneously feed your eyes and your face.
Opening night for this production of “A Salty Christmas Carol” was in the event room of Joe Morley’s BBQ. It began with the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future—Tonia Sayer, Christopher B. Kucera, Jordan Wonnacott—plotting to jolly up ol’ Scrooge (Jeremy Jonsson). Christmas Past was a ’60s flower child (with daisy-imprinted go-go boots), Present wore a t-shirt with jeans, and Future wore a shimmering bodysuit.
Clearly, this was not intended to be a faithful adaptation! In this 21st century update, Scrooge was a slumlord who crippled the poor with balloon mortgage payments. The audience was his debtors who he had gathered together to demand payment. If this was a murder mystery, I’d have dibs on the old guy.
But this was a comedy! No killing! There wasn’t even sight of the decrepit Cratchit hovel or poor Tiny Tim. (Crippled kid humor, anyone?)
Actually, the script only touched on a few highlights of the story. More abundant and entertaining than the scripted portions were the parts in between. There were games of charades, a “Bah, Humbug!” contest where some guy won a bidet, and other merriments led by Tonia Sayer. She worked the tables like a master, cracking wise with audience members and getting dancing. Sayer displayed impressive improvisation skills and command of the scene. That woman needs her own show.
While all this was happening, two singers (Megan Valerie Tholen and Clayton Barney) took turns crooning carols. They both had fine voices and added splendidly to the atmosphere. I do have a suggestion for the theater, though. The audience request format presented some problems, like when the first request for “My Two Front Teeth” rang out. Not surprisingly the singers didn’t know it! There were also some missed words. Just let them sing their own selections. Sure, there’s no audience participation, but the talent will be more comfortable and the presentation will be smoother.
It was these parts between the story that were the most enjoyable. Especially because they had the food. That’s not to disparage the show, rather it’s a compliment to the format. It feels pleasantly medieval to chomp down on hot meat while you’re being entertained on a cold night. Give me barbeque, a couple singing carols, and an improviser making yuks at my table and I’ll be happy. While these parts did make me warm inside, the show as a whole didn’t transport to another place. Perhaps some lack of escapism came from the absence of set pieces and props. I get why they’ve dispensed with these things, they’re moving from one restaurant to another each night, but it did lessen the illusion.
It also meant that the actors had their work cut out for them as much as mimes. They had to take us to London without streetlights or fog, and even the final graveyard without a gravestone. And all of this as they navigated chairs and performed up close without the buffer of space or proscenium.
So my hat goes off to the actors as I suggest a couple areas for improvement. The tension between each other could be improved, and they could also slow down and sell the lines more. Granted, the script had more than its share of clunkers. Some lines were also unnatural for the modern setting (“For today, it’s Christmas!”).
The most remarkable thing was that the power of the source material still shined through the silliness. When Scrooge saw his grave, I thought “Man, I am a Scrooge. I have to change.” And what better reaction can a show invoke than that?