A TEXAS CHRISTMAS CAROL
A Christmas Tale of Greed, Ghosts, and Really Spicy Chili
ACT ONE We see a simple wooden stage—it looks Depression era. A weathered canvas backdrop is draped upstage, giving the intimate space a theatrical feel. Ropes with bare incandescent bulbs define the acting area and provide strange, nostalgic light. This all has the feeling of a sideshow stage, ready for storytelling and snake oil dealing. In the center of the space is a carefully constructed pile of seemingly unrelated things— chairs, clothes, bits of furniture, a large rusted trunk, a bleached cow skull. Hanging above all this is a weathered sign that reads “Dickens, Texas.” As the house lights fade, the sign begins to glow. Music begins. It is from an earlier time, and tinged with that same Depression Era feel that speaks of both hardship and triumph. As it plays, we begin to see the cast revealed slowly. They extract from the pile a series of worn wooden chairs that are assembled upstage in a formal arrangement. Everyone moves to be seated, except one actor who, at the conclusion of the music, steps forward to speak to us. ONE: Prologue
ACTOR #1 Howdy. And welcome. A beat. Guitar music continues under. Every year about this time, we all get to feeling strange. Jittery almost. I’m sure ya’ll know what I mean. Memories of childhood start spinning around our heads. The air gets crisper. Familiar things greet our noses like old friends. Cinnamon. Pine. The smell of promised snow. Light begins to fill in. Every December, a tiny twitch makes its way into the measure of our hearts. A flutter. Small as a bird. Calling up the past. Hankering for the future. I don’t have to tell you what it feels like. Most of you are feeling it right now.
An actress steps forward to join him. ACTRESS #1 Times change. People change. Some leave us. Some find us. Our lives scramble off in new and curious directions. The world keeps changing; try as we might to stop it. There is one thing, though, that is as constant as time: This is a season of thanks. Of promise. Of hope. A time to forget who we are and where we come from and think about what made us. And how we should be thankful for this. For now. For living. The guitar ends with a simple, plaintive melody. The cast is fully revealed. The stage is bathed in a warm glow. A young actor moves apart from them, closer to us. ACTOR #3 There’s a story that has been making its way around these parts for some time now. It's one that you’ve heard before. It’s a tale of one fateful Christmas Eve. A Christmas Eve when everything sensible and serene shook loose, and the most familiar things took on the shape of strange dreams. He is joined by a young actress. ACTRESS #3 This is not your typical Christmas story. It’s a story of greed, ghosts, and really spicy chili. It's all about one man, Eb Scrooge-‐-‐ the richest man in these parts-‐-‐ and the stingiest man in Texas. An actor steps forward. He is warm, disarming. As he speaks he puts on some lived-‐in boots and a ragged jacket. He will become BOB CRATCHITT. ACTOR#2/CRATCHITT The story takes place in Dickens, Texas, in the year 1933. It is the Great Depression, and Eb Scrooge is the most colorful citizen in a land laid bare by storms of dust. Scrooge is what you might call a Tumbleweed Baron. In a place struggling to survive the hard times, he flourished. He wasn’t afraid to take the hard road. He did what it took, at all costs, to rise to the top of the heap. ACTRESS #2 The story is, the miser Eb Scrooge won most of the land in Dickens in a card game. His poker cheating was legendary, and more than a few times he was caught hiding cards in places the sun had not seen for years. ACTOR #2/CRATCHITT He had a gaze like steel that fixed you on the spot. And a grin like a Halloween pumpkin. He bluffed his way into owning this town. Into owning us all.
CRATCHITT takes his place at a small table that has been assembled behind him. He lights a small lantern and begins to work on inventory books. ACTRESS #1 And that's not the worst of it. To top it all off, the Blanco River cut right through his land. The Rio Blanco was the only source of water here in this dust plagued Texas town. By the drought of 1933, it was the one sliver of hope that kept the town alive. ACTOR #2/CRATCHITT This man who owned the river, owned everything. Actor #1 moves center stage. As he speaks, he takes on the persona of EB SCROOGE-‐-‐ a crusty, weathered old miser of a ranchman. ACTOR #1/EB SCROOGE Right about now would be a good time to introduce you to the man all this fuss is about. Ebeneezer Abraham Scrooge. He was a wiry old coot. He stalked the streets of Dickens like a Dodge City sheriff. Barking orders. Collecting debts. Spitting tobacco and cussing like he’d never seen the inside of a church. ACTRESS #3 In his younger days he had quite a swagger, but as time passed, the fire of youth and promise had faded. ACTOR #1/EB SCROOGE His swagger had stiffened to a purposeful gait. ACTRESS #2 Gone was the goodness of this man. Scrooge enters the room where Cratchit is working. TWO: Scrooge’s Office ACTOR #2/CRATCHIT Good afternoon, Mr. Scrooge. ACTOR #1/SCROOGE Cratchit, I said meet me 2 o'clock at the hardware store! ACTOR #2/CRATCHIT Sorry, Mr. Scrooge. But you told me to get these books finished…
ACTOR #1/SCROOGE (interrupting, angry) And they’re not?!! Yessir. Just now.
ACTOR #1/SCROOGE (muttering) “Just now”. Bah. “Yessir!” Lazy, shiftless people. (turning on him) How could it take you all morning and most of the afternoon to do an idiot’s job? What the devil am I paying you for?! ACTOR #2/CRATCHIT I’m sorry Mr. Scrooge. ACTOR #1/SCROOGE Sorry is not an answer, boy! Sorry is what I am for hiring you. ACTOR #2/CRATCHIT I had to get to town. It’s Christmas tomorrow. I promised the family something special for dinner. ACTOR #1/SCROOGE No excuse! You have wasted my time. I’ll be docking your pay to a half day. ACTOR #2/CRATCHIT (softly) Yessir. A moment. Cratchit works. Scrooge lights another lantern. ACTRESS #1 Bob Cratchit is one of those men who puts his family first. No matter what the physical cost, he sees to it that they have food on the table. No matter how dark the day, he manages to find the light. ACTRESS #3 In addition to regular stints with the Civilian Conservation Corps, he works part time as an assistant bookkeeper for Scrooge and the EAS Land and Cattle Company. ACTOR #3 The entire Cratchit family lives on a barren piece of land “generously” provided by Mr. Scrooge. They live there like prairie dogs in a one room house with no running water and questionable electric wiring.
ACTOR #2/BOB CRATICHITT (to us) You have to touch the cast iron stove and the light switch at the same time to get the light to stay on. (a beat) The no running water is probably a good thing, now that I think about it. ACTRESS #2 It should be plain to see that Mister Scrooge is no Mother Teresa. The scene continues. Scrooge produces a list. ACTOR #1/SCROOGE Cratchit, I’m going to need you to pick up these materials from the hardware store. ACTOR #2/CRATCHIT What for? ACTOR #1/SCROOGE Not that it’s any of your business, but I’m going to have a fence built around the well in the town square. ACTOR #2/CRATCHIT A fence? Why would you do that? ACTOR #1/SCROOGE I’m going start siphoning off that water as I see fit. ACTOR #2/CRATCHITT But you can’t do that. ACTOR #1/SCROOGE Can and will. I own the land. The water is mine. A pause. Scrooge counts money. Cratchit, nervous, finally musters the courage to speak. ACTOR #2/CRACTHIT Uh, Mr. Scrooge...sir...could I ask you... ACTOR #1/SCROOGE What, Cratchitt?! ACTOR #2/CRATCHIT Tomorrow is Christmas Day and I was wondering if I might have some time off to spend with my family.
ACTOR #1/SCROOGE It’s just another day, boy, and a bad excuse for scalping a man every 25th of December. ACTOR #2/CRATCHIT I'd be beholdin' to you, Mr. Scrooge. ACTOR #1/SCROOGE “Beholdin’”…I like the sound of that! Deal, Cratchitt. BUT—meet me at the crack o' dawn the very next day. You’re going to build that fence for me. ACTOR #2/CRATCHIT Yes sir, I will. Thank you. Thank you, sir. Merry Christmas, Mr. Scrooge. ACTOR #1/SCROOGE (thundering) Christmas?!!! Bah! Junebug! Another pause. Scrooge sulks, Cratchit works. ACTRESS #2 This Christmas will be a difficult one for the Cratchit family. A time of celebration mixed with a time of sadness. Bob Cratchit’s youngest child has been sick most of the winter. His momma and daddy have done everything in their power to keep him strong. Still, his future is uncertain. A BOY steps forward. ACTRESS #3 This fragile child is Timothy Judah Cratchit. Tiny Tim to those who know him. BOY ACTOR/TINY TIM �� My momma and daddy say that Santa Clause only visits kids that are good. I’m not so sure about that. Last year Scooter Williams got in bad trouble two days before Christmas for smashing Mrs. Clump’s window with a slingshot. (beat) Scooter still got a visit from Santa. And a four note train whistle. Just like he wanted. I asked momma how that could happen. She told me Santa Clause can tell if our hearts are sorry. He can tell the difference. ACTRESS #1 Santa Clause has always been relentlessly clairvoyant. ACTOR #3 Like a bearded Houdini. The scene between Scrooge and Cratchit continues.
ACTOR #1/SCROOGE I’m going into town, Cratchit. I have some bill collecting to do. ACTOR #2/CRACTHIT On Christmas Eve? ACTOR #1/SCROOGE The world doesn’t stop on the 24th of December. Some of us have to make a living. CRATCHIT Yessir. He exits. The stage is transformed into the streets of Dickens, Texas. THREE: The Streets of Dickens, Texas ACTRESS #2 And then, on the streets of Dickens, Texas, the day before Christmas, Eb Scrooge proved once and for all what a skunk he was. His first stop was the Four Square Church, where newly appointed Deacon Ed Branson was holding a rally to raise funds for a new soup kitchen to feed the hungry. Actor #2, as BROTHER ED BRANSON, testifies from a podium fashioned from an old crate. Scrooge stops on the edge of the crowd to listen. ACTOR #2/BROTHER ED BRANSON The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness! To an opponent: tolerance. To a friend: your heart. To your child: a good example. To your father: admiration. To your mother: conduct that will make her proud. To yourself: respect. To all men: charity. ACTRESS #2 As the crowd moved forward to offer whatever assistance they could, Scrooge stopped Brother Branson with an outstretched hand. ACTOR #1/SCROOGE I see you have my money. ACTOR #2/BROTHER ED BRANSON Sir?
ACTOR #1/SCROOGE Don't play the fool! The money this ramshackle tabernacle owes me for the mortgage on this prime plot of real estate. I am the Piper. And it is time, sir, for you to pay me. ACTOR #2/BROTHER ED BRANSO Can we step inside to discuss this? ACTOR #1/SCROOGE There is nothing to debate. ACTOR #2/BROTHER ED BRANSON But Mr. Scrooge… ACTOR #1/SCROOGE (interrupting) …My horses butt!! It’s a simple request, Branson. ACTOR #2/BROTHER ED BRANSON Couldn’t you wait until after Christmas? ACTOR #1/SCROOGE Hell no. ACTOR #2/ED BRANSON We need this money. People will go without food if you take it from me now. A long pause. Scrooge studies the humbled man. Branson cannot look at him. ACTOR#1/SCROOGE Charity degrades those who receive it. The best way to get an honest day’s pay is to do an honest day’s work. Another pause. Defeated, Brother Branson hands over the cash. Scrooge pockets it. ACTRESS #1 Eb Scrooge turned and walked away. Could he not see the faces of those around him who had just given the last of what they had to comfort those who had nothing? This man was blind. ACTOR #3 steps forward. He becomes Scrooge’s nephew, LUKE MCGUIRE—youthful, exuberant, and full of the spirit of the season.
ACTOR #3/LUKE MCGUIRE Merry Christmas. Merry, Merry Christmas everybody! I just love this time of year. Jingle Bells. Jingle Bells, ya'll! ACTRESS #3 Meet Scrooge’s nephew, Luke McGuire. ACTOR #3/LUKE I just need to make a few announcements about the upcoming Christmas Carnival. This year’s theme is “Christmas Around the World.” To this end, Sheriff Bo Riles and his posse have set up a Parisian snow village in Carter Park. Special thanks to Froncie Wells for the tiny street scene made up entirely of frogs. Actress #1, as FRONCIE WELLS, steps forward. ACTRESS #1/FRONCIE WELLS The frogs are all wearing tiny little berets with matching silk ascots. And there’s an Eiffel tower made entirely of beans! ACTRESS #2 Luke McGuire owns the town’s only hardware store. The man is Christmas' biggest fan. His holiday window displays are always highly anticipated events. This year, his manger scene was topped off with electric Wise Men, which his brother had made by hand and shipped all the way from Chicago. ACTOR #3/LUKE The wise men’s eyes follow you when you walk by the window. ACTOR #2 He’s also quite an up-‐and-‐comer in the local political scene. ACTOR #3/LUKE (big political smile) I'm what you might call a slightly left of right moderately liberal conservative. ACTOR #2 Spoken like a true public official. ACTOR #3/LUKE (most sincere) Well. All politics aside. Christmas means rejoicing. And we all could use a little of that. We hear a simple country hymn, sung by Actress #1 as MARY EDNA RAINS. Mary is a physically fragile, outspoken woman deeply rooted in the gospel and in her faith.
ACTTRESS #1/MARY "Sing praises to the Lord and declare among the people his doings". Psalms. Chapter 9. Verse 11. ACTOR #2 Thank you Mary. That’s a fine illustration. (indicating her) Mary Edna Rains is another one of Dickens’ precious souls. She has coached the First Nazarene Bible Bowl team to the state championship two years running. ACTRESS #1/ MARY (her slogan) “Fill your head with verses, not vice.” ACTOR #1/SCROOGE Memorizing bible verses is a waste of time. Scripture never plowed the field or put food on the table. Hard work does that. ACTRESS #1/MARY (to Scrooge, pointedly) “And he found a new jawbone of an ass…and put forth his hand and took it, and slew a thousand men.” Judges, chapter 15, verse 15. A tense pause. Mary grins. Luke approaches Scrooge. ACTOR #3/LUKE Hello, Uncle! Merry Christmas! ACTOR #1/SCROOGE Christmas? Bah! Junebug! I've had enough of Christmas already. ACTOR #3/LUKE Uncle Eb, you don't mean that. ACTOR #1/SCROOGE The heck I don't. Every pinheaded idiot that goes around spoutin' "Merry Christmas" should have to swim buck naked in a stank creek. ACTOR #3/LUKE It wouldn’t hurt you to lighten up just a bit. ACTRESS #3 And then, Eb Scrooge said something that would soon come back to haunt him. ACTOR #1/SCROOGE You keep Christmas in your way, and I'll keep Christmas in mine.
ACTOR #3/LUKE But you don't keep it, Uncle. That's my point.
ACTOR #3/LUKE Will we be seeing' you for Christmas dinner tomorrow, Uncle Eb? ACTOR #1/SCROOGE (after a beat, simply) Like hell. The hymn continues under. Scrooge walks. We realize we are now in the poorest section of the town. Two young boys loiter along the street. ACTRESS #1 Next, there was the child's Christmas wish. Actor #3 becomes SULLY MACON, the older of the two boys. He is mean, tough, and rambunctious. The Boy Actor becomes SCOOTER MACON, small and innocent. As Scrooge approaches, he regards both of them with the same distaste. ACTOR#3/SULLY MACON Hey, mister— ACTOR #1/SCROOGE What do you want, boy?! BOY ACTOR/SCOOTER MACON (scared) C’mon, Sully. Let’s get out of here. ACTOR #3/SULLY MACON Quiet, Scooter. Let me do the talking. ACTOR #1/SCROOGE (impatient) I am waiting. What do you want?!! ACTOR #3/SULLY MACON You got any money?
ACTOR #1/SCROOGE Go back to where you came from, boy. ACTOR #3/SULLY MACON (sarcastically) I come from my momma. That'd be hard to do. ACTOR #1/SCROOGE Get out of my way, smart mouth. ACTOR #3/SULLY MACON I know you're rich. People say you got more money than you got sense. ACTOR #1/SCROOGE People are fools. He turns to leave and, as he does, Scooter speaks. His voice sounds angelic. It stops Scrooge dead in his tracks. BOY ACTOR/SCOOTER Please forgive Sully. He don't mean to be so rude. He’s just sad cause it’s Christmas Eve and we got no place to go. We’re good boys, mister. Honest. Our daddy ran off. Our momma is down in bed and she can’t help us. Can you spare some change? Another pause. Scooter smiles innocently. ACTOR #1/SCROOGE (in Scooter’s face) That’s a nice story. Tell it to another fool. Both boys are silent. After a beat, Sully turns and runs. Scooter stands, staring at Scrooge. ACTRESS #3 Scrooge closed his ears to the cries of the needy. It takes a cold heart to turn down such a simple wish. Scooter turns and runs off after Sully. Scrooge continues his hasty journey across the town square. We see Mary Edna Rains and ETHYL KLEPPER drinking from the town's water well. Both are carrying food to be delivered to the annual community-‐wide church covered dish supper. Mary Edna is First Church of the Nazarene. Floral is First Baptist.
ACTOR #2 Finally, there were the two women at the well. ACTRESS #1/MARY Hello, Ebeneezer Scrooge. ACTOR #1/SCROOGE Mr. Scrooge to you, madam. And certainly not Ebeneezer. ACTRESS #1/MARY You’ve always been Ebeneezer to me. We’ve known each other since creation. Don’t get poosty with me just because you don’t like your own name. ACTOR #1/SCROOGE Poosty?! I am not being POOSTY!! ACTRESS #1/MARY “Ebeneezer”. You were teased with it. As a child. I remember. ACTRESS #2/ETHYL Bizarre ��name. For a boy. Unnatural! ACTOR #1/SCROOGE (embarrassed and irritated) I’ve got no time for this gum-‐flapping! I am a busy man. ACTRESS #1/MARY Have you met my friend, Ethyl Klepper? Ethyl, this is Mr. Scrooge. ACTRESS #2/ETHYL Hello. Will we be seeing you at the Christmas Eve service tonight? (holds up a container) I've made my famous "Eight Alarm Chili" for the covered dish afterwards. She smiles sweetly at him, and then dips the ladle into the well water to drink. Scrooge strikes out at her. ACTOR #1/SCROOGE Bible banging. Social gabbing over leftovers. (sarcastically) Save me a seat on the front row. ACTRESS #2/ETHYL Mister Scrooge, the Lord does not take lightly to sarcasm.
ACTOR #1/SCROOGE And I'm sure he told you that himself. Did he also tell you I own the water in that well? ACTRESS #1/MARY How could you own this water? ACTOR #1/SCROOGE I own ALL the water rights in this county. (takes the ladle from her, checks the size) You owe me 2 cents each. ACTRESS #2/ETHYL (laughs) That is silly. I am not playing you for a sip of water. ACTRESS #1/MARY Neither am I. ACTOR #1/SCROOGE Then I'll just get the Sheriff. He can explain the law to you. ACTRESS #2/EHTYL (flustered, beaten) Well I meant no disrespect. Take this chili as payment. The recipe is my pride and joy. It's all I have right now. ACTOR #1/SCROOGE Fine. He snatches it from her. Hurt and berated, Ethyl makes a hasty exit. Mary stands at the well, head bowed. Scrooge sniffs the container of chili. ACTRESS #3 And Scrooge took from them all they had in exchange for a few sips of water. ACTRESS #1/MARY “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn thou not away.” ACTOR #2 Sounds like Matthew. ACTRESS #1/MARY Yes. In his book. Chapter 5. Verse 42.
(paraphrasing) “Don’t thou judgest me, old woman, less thou get thee high-‐n-‐mighty self judged.” (hesitates, sarcastically) Uh…somewhere in Matthew!! ACTRESS #1/MARY Good day to you, Ebeneezer. Scrooge scowls at her. Sniffs the chili again. ACTOR #3 Let's move the story along now. I think you’ve seen enough proof of Eb Scrooge’s cantankerous spirit. The man needs a reckoning. FOUR: The Gate Music under. Scrooge walks. Various cast members flood the stage moving props and furniture. They begin to assemble a simple representation of Scrooge's kitchen and bedroom. Somewhere apart from this room, Actor #3 stands as a makeshift gate. He holds a cow skull in front of his face. ACTRESS #1 Scrooge finally arrived at his front gate with the ill-‐gotten chili in tow. On a post nearby was a mean man's Christmas decoration-‐-‐ the skull of Bossie the cow. Bossie met her bovine creator about a year ago. Her crime? She refused to let it be a "silent night". As he walked past the remains of Bossie, he heard a familiar voice. Tiny Tim Bob moves the cow skull as if it were talking. We hear the voice of JAKE MARLEY SCROOGE. ACTOR #2/JAKE MARLEY SCROOGE'S VOICE (like the bellow of a cow) Brother Scro-‐o-‐o-‐o-‐o-‐o-‐o-‐o-‐o-‐o-‐o-‐o-‐oge. Scrooge stops dead in his tracks. He closes his eyes. Opens them. The skull does not move now. ACTOR #1/SCROOGE J.M.???? ACTRESS #1 The familiar voice of his brother, dead some five years, rang in his ears like a church bell.