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While it's doubtful that Dickens ever scratched his grizzled chin and softly announced to the gathered audience, "Tonight, we work blue," this show is the probable result had he done so. By the time the Ghost of Christmas Past (Virginia Schneider in complete nasty-girl mode) arrives to lap dance Scrooge (David St. James) into the realm of shadows, it's clear this is a story the aim of which has strayed considerably from the heart.

Tom Bottelsen, who also plays Bob Cratchett, has done extensive updating and tweaking of the seasonal chestnut, and more power to him. The problem, however, is tone. In a show that positions itself as a precociously adolescent exercise, and a fine one, there are these occasional stabs at human connection. Not a mockery of the whole cheapness of sentiment, mind you, but actual human connection, and it never works. Having Scrooge's money toss to the street urchin at the end of the story turn into urban warfare as the kids scrap for the coin with ever more lethal weaponry is when the show is hitting on all cylinders. Turning Dickens' Requisite Pathetic into Tiny Tina (a wickedly fresh Sherry Mattson), a hyperkinetic child with lung cancer and a mysterious Cockney accent—the story has moved to L.A.—is equally inspired. But when the Cratchetts (Bottelsen and Laura Skill) stand around to discuss their relationship, endlessly, it simply sounds like two high school kids who have discovered they have emotional needs and the freedom to curse as much as they like.

St. James shows flair for playing a foul-mouthed coot. At first it's like hearing your gentlemanly grandfather let fly a volley of obscenities, but it grows on you. As Marley, Damon Standifer does an estimable job of playing post-mortem existence as an ongoing club act. Michael Merton delights in the roles of Fezziwig and the very gay nephew Perry, while the stentorian Patrick Thomas Gorman makes an excellent beleaguered narrator. Kudos to sound designer Jeff Scott for underscoring "Jingle Bells" with the merry percussion of Tiny Tina, hacking her short life away.

"A F**kin' Christmas Carol," presented by Theatre Neo in association with and at the Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., 2nd floor, L.A. Tue.-Wed. 7:30 & 9:30 p.m. Nov. 30-Dec. 29. $15. (323) 769-5858.

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