In the second of our three-part series on the West Coast premiere of A Klingon Christmas Carol, we talk with director Robert Reeves on the differences between the Dickensian Christmas Carol and its Klingon equivalent and how he tries to balance the two different concepts behind the respective versions.
VCOS: How does this project rank, challenge-wise, for you?
ROBERT: It’s been pretty challenging. One thing that I’ve noticed recently is that as the actors start doing their lines in Klingon, I don’t know what they’re saying, so I can’t really correct them on delivery. One of the things a director might say is, “Can you do it this way?” or “Can you emphasize this word?” If you emphasize a word in English, in Klingon, it comes in a different part of the sentence, so it doesn’t make sense. So I know the gist of the scene, but I don’t understand the individual lines that make up the scene. We have someone else on book for the lines, but I don’t know if they are saying it the right way.
VCOS: So you weren’t required to learn the language?
ROBERT: Well, I did attend the language seminar that the actors did, so I have a basic idea about the sentence structure and pronunciation, but I have’t gone to the extent of learning what each line means. Our script is split, with one page being in English and the opposite page in Klingon, so I am able to look across at the English and know what’s being said.
VCOS: Other than the language, are there other aspects of being a Klingon that work their way into melding and defining these characters?
ROBERT: They do, actually. The story is based a lot on Klingon culture, or at least what’s been established in the TV shows and the movies. So some of the things in the story have changed. One of the things is the title. It’s not A Christmas Carol in Klingon, it translates to The Feast of the Long Night. There’s no Christmas in Klingon culture. The notion of a god in Klingon culture is a little bit different, too, so you have to change the cultural references in order to match up the story. There’s a big emphasis on honor and duty, having a glorious death, things like that, which aren’t quite Dickens themes. In the Klingon Christmas Carol, Tiny Tim is not a sick little boy, he’s a boy who wants to become a warrior.
VCOS: Is it possible to remain faithful to both Dickens and the Klingon legends or does one suffer in deference to the other?
ROBERT: I think one of the reasons the authors chose this story is because people will already understand what’s going on, even if they don’t follow the language. They understand the ghosts and they understand Scrooge going into his own past and then into his future, so I think the Dickensian themes are still there. There is still some sort of redemption for Scrooge, he’s a certain kind of person at the beginning, but he finds out that he needs to change. So by looking at his past and seeing what he’s missing in his present, he realizes that there are certain things he can change by himself. So whatever Dickens was trying to get across in his story, about a man changing his life before it’s too late before he dies, still applies.
VCOS: In the Dickens version, Scrooge was just a greedy, selfish miser. What is the Klingon Scrooge like?
ROBERT: The Klingon Scrooge is kind of the same thing in that he is very preoccupied with money. He’s a money lender for the other Klingons. Basically, the Klingons that are going off to war need some way to finance their battles, so he’s the one they go to. His failing is that he’s not a warrior himself. He’s never picked up a sword, he’s never been in a battle. There’s a scene where he’s a kid and is trying to defend the honor of his girlfriend and he doesn’t do that, he kind of shies away from that. So his whole life he has avoided putting himself in life-threatening situations but taking a step back and being the one who finances the battles and who profits from the wars, but he doesn’t actually go and fight.
VCOS: How about the character of Bob Cratchit?
ROBERT: Cratchit is very similar. He’s still a family man and very much in love with his son. He’s very protective of him and wants him to grow, but Cratchit is more of a typical Klingon in that he is a warrior and wants his son to grow up to be a warrior, too, but he’s afraid that his son might not live very long and won’t have an honored place in the afterlife because he won’t have had battles he’s fought in. Cratchit is opposed to Scrooge’s ideals of being a money lender. There’s a scene when the play opens up where Cratchit is actually sharpening his knife instead of doing his work and Scrooge says stop doing that, you’ll hurt yourself.
VCOS: Tell me about Jacob Marley.
ROBERT: Marley is a lot more aggressive in this one. He’s still scary. The Marley in the original Christmas Carol was really scary. He’s the first ghost we see, rattling the chains and bellowing, while our Marley physically attacks Scrooge. He picks him up by the throat, slaps him, and threatens him with a weapon. Basically he is saying, I was the way you are now, I was this way, too, and now I’m doomed to eternity to never be able to fight, so I’m going to try to get you to fight me and your own battles.
VCOS: What do the three ghosts represent in the Klingon version?
ROBERT: They’re called the ghosts of Kahless [note: pronounced KAY-less] past. Kahless is the closest thing they have to a god. In Star Trek lore or Klingon lore, Kahless was one of the first Klingons to adopt the lifestyle that they all have now. He forged his own sword out of lava or something like that and started the whole idea of honor and dying a warrior and all that. So all Klingons follow the teachings of Kahless. I’m not trying to compare him to Christ or Buddha, but it’s similar in that he’s not so much a religious deity but a living person who they look to as an example of how to live one’s life. I went the traditional route with casting the three Kahless spirits. I’ve seen the ghost of Christmas past played by a woman who is almost fairylike, so we cast a woman in that role. Our Kahless present is very similar to the boisterous Santa Claus in Dickens’ version and our Kahless yet-to-come is also the cloaked figure; not so much a skeleton but covered by a black robe so that you can’t see his face.
VCOS: What kinds of things were you looking for when you went through the casting process?
ROBERT: We’re using the script they gave us that takes us inside the Klingon culture, but I was really casting it as if we were casting A Christmas Carol. I wanted a big, larger-than-life presence for the ghost of Christmas present, I wanted someone who could be evil and miserly to be Scrooge, although we did do some non-traditional casting too. Tiny Tim is actually played by a girl and some of the warriors are also played by women. You do what you can. One difference is that we have a narrator who is a Vulcan, which is like the Star Trek character Spock. And we actually got someone who has had experience playing a Vulcan. He used to work at a theme park as a Vulcan walking around.
VCOS: How have your thoughts about doing this show evolved through this experience? Were you “on stun,” so to speak?
ROBERT: That’s a good way to put it. When Richard Dreyfuss was offered a role in Jaws, he said, “That sounds like a great movie, I’ll look forward to watching it, but I don’t want to have anything to do with it.” And when I heard about this, it was the same thing. “That sounds like a great idea, but it sounds really hard and I don’t know if I want to even be involved.” But a couple of friends told me I needed to go do it because I was a Star Trek guy, but even when they offered the job to me and told me what it was all about, I had problems with it because of all the work. But it’s one of those things where you love the idea so much you don’t want anyone else to do it. So I decided that I wanted to make it work the way I saw it so I took it.
VCOS: Well, we hope it runs long and prospers.
ROBERT: That’s great! I appreciate that!
In our final installment next week, we will speak to Paul Carpenter, who serves as the official Klingon linguist for the production (in addition to playing the Kahless of Christmas Present) and Nick D’Alberto, who plays the Klingon equivalent of Scrooge. A Klingon Christmas Carol opens December 14 at Santa Susana High School. See the VC On Stage Calendar for dates and showtimes.
Photo ID (by Francisco Hernandez): L-R: Paul Carpenter, Nick D’Alberto, Mary Comstock, Genevieve Levin, Jordan Gannon and Hannah Peterson as Ghost of Kahless Present, SQuja’, emlI’, marDa, QachIt and tImHom