It’s not like the ending is a surprise.
“Everyone’s seen it, everyone knows how it ends,” Eric Wolf said of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” What they may not have seen is his portrayal of Scrooge, even though Wolf has done it “a hundred times” in the Waynesville area. He’s bringing his Scroogiest performance to the Red Rocker Inn for some dinner theater at 6 p.m. Dec. 18, 19 and 21 and at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 22.
A clinical social worker by trade, the Black Mountain resident has been a professional storyteller since he was 8. Now, nearly 40 years later, he’s capitalizing on his talents to bring to diners at the Red Rocker Inn a comedic version of the (ultimately) lovable old skinflint.
“I can’t do it in the boring old way,” Wolf said in a rambling, almost stream-of-conscious interview recently. “I have to do it different.”
“As the audience builds with me, it gets funnier and funnier. Everything is funny because it’s funny. I work really hard to make sure that it does not mock anyone. The advantage of doing it 100 times is you get a sense of who wants to be left alone.”
“A Christmas Carol” as Wolf sees it is a story about redemption, kindness and service to others. “And the question is,” he said, “is money more important than people? These are all questions that Scrooge deals with through the arch of the story.”
The “Christmas Carol” that Wolf draws his material, he said, is “the source of all ‘Christmas Carol’ material – ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol.’”
Wolf plays Scrooge and all the (non-Muppet) Christmas Carol characters. He invites his audiences to participate, but only if they want to. At the Red Rocker, he’ll walk around the dining room in costume while inhabiting the roles of the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Past. He narrates, he gesticulates, he grimaces. “Bob Cratchit, are you?” he’s likely to ask a diner who wants to play along, noting that he (or she) as Cratchit probably wants to be off on Christmas Day to spend it with Mrs. Cratchit, Tiny Tim and the rest of the family.
““A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!'' Wolf will say. The more assertive audience members become in their chosen roles, the more lifelike – and funnier – Wolf’s performance becomes.
“You build confidence over the course of the show, and people get more confident participating,” he said.
The first act can be delightfully scary as Wolf becomes the chain-rattling Jacob Marley. The second act is funny. And the third act leaves the audience reflecting on why “A Christmas Carol” and its lessons about people over money matter, he said. “And people are moved by it,” he said.
“It’s not like watching a movie. Theater is something else. When you break that ‘fourth wall’ (to address the audience), there’s something magical. If you do it in a kind way, people are moved by it.”
Jenny and Doug Bowen, owners of the Red Rocker Inn, decided to offer “A Christmas Carol” to the area because there’s a dearth of dinner theater in Black Mountain. The Bowens hope the performance will become a holiday tradition at the inn, much like the Christmas Cake – a fresh orange Italian cream cake- the inn offers every year. (The rest of the three-course meal will include soup and the inn’s signature biscuits, as well as prime rib, chicken, a vegetarian entrée, sides and other special desserts that Jenny Bowen had yet to decide upon last week.)
The $65 price per person includes tip and tax but not wine.
The theater option helps the inn fill the weeks after the busy initial weeks in December, when it hosts several parties, Jenny Bowen said. “This gives us a special something that’s fun right before Christmas. I’ve already had people buy (the dinner theater) as gifts to themselves.
“This will be a lot of fun.”