David Pevsner has good reason to be in a happy holiday mood — his film Scrooge & Marley is now out on DVD. In this gay reimagining of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Pevsner plays Ebenezer “Ben” Scrooge, the rich miser who distrusts love, looks on everyone in his gay community with contempt, and hates the holidays.
The familiar Christmas Eve visit from the ghost of Scrooge’s late business partner, Jacob Marley, is still a part of this version of the story, which is the brainchild of writer-director Richard Knight Jr. Played by former Saturday Night Live cast member Tim Kazurinsky, Marley wants to free Scrooge from the bitter fate that awaits him post-mortem.
What follows are visits by three decidedly flamboyant spirits: the Ghosts of Christmas Past (played by Make Me a Supermodel runner-up Ronnie Kroell), Christmas Present (played by A League of Their Own actor Megan Cavanagh) and Christmas Yet to Come (eerily created by Chicago-area performance artist JoJo Baby). Each encounter helps lead Scrooge back to compassion for humanity.
“It’s really sweet,” Pevsner says. “A story that’s tried and true, but with just enough tweaking to feel fresh — this version of Scrooge really spoke to me.”
When Pevsner first read the script, he said, he felt an instant connection to the character’s heart and his ultimate holiday redemption.
“I love when I read a character that makes me go, ‘This one’s mine,’” he says. “When I feel like I have an understanding of him, his conflicts, his humor and his flaws. … It’s like tapping into a well of humanity. I couldn’t wait to read for it.”
He says there’s a more universal message to this project: “It’s not just the fact that Scrooge is gay and that he’s ‘holiday-challenged.’ He holds people at arm’s length because he’s built this shell around his heart — and his fear of being penniless is such a driving force. One of my favorite sayings is ‘You can be right or you can be happy.’ That’s definitely an element of Ben.”
Pevsner’s first exposure to Dickens’ story came during his childhood in Skokie, Ill., when he saw the animated version that featured Mr. Magoo as the miserable old penny-pincher.
“We celebrated Hanukkah,” he says. “Potato pancakes and lots of songs in minor keys. I always envied my non-Jewish friends and their Christmas trees, so my favorite thing was when we’d get in the car and drive around the Sauganash area of the ‘burbs and look at all the Christmas lights.”
Even today he tries to keep this special mood going during December “I just sort of try to get all Zen and be grateful for another year and pass into the new one in a positive mode,” he says.
There’s plenty to be positive about: Pevsner is not only an actor, but also a writer and composer. Several of his songs are featured in the off-Broadway hit Naked Boys Singing.
And singing is one of his talents, as well. He remembers a period during his childhood when he would learn commercial jingles and sing them at the top of his lungs to anyone who would listen. “At home, in the car … not much fun for the family, but they indulged me,” he said, laughing.
In Scrooge & Marley, he performed “Ebenezer Is to Christmas.” “I would have loved to have sung more,” he says, “but one of his character’s elements is that Ben used to love musicals and the divas, but the art got sucked out of him. I did get to sing that one song though, and it’s a privilege to be on this soundtrack.”
Of his career, he says: “I finally gave myself the label of ‘artist’ rather than ‘some guy who acts, sings, and writes’ one day a few years ago. I realized that my craft, my passion and my heart are really all I need to do the kind of work I wanted to do.”
He recalls that this epiphany occurred a number of years ago when he appeared in the Portland Stage Company’s production of Paula Vogel’s play The Baltimore Waltz, which deals with AIDS-related themes.
“It was the first serious play I had done since college,” said Pevsner, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, “and I was working with two other fantastic actors and a director who let us really explore. It was then I started to look at acting as a craft, rather than just being the musical-comedy guy who got by on charm.”
But what form of artistry does he prefer?
“It’s about the project and how passionate I feel about it,” he says, “whether it’s an acting, singing, or writing project. I’m always on the lookout for things that inspire me, and I love embracing the challenge of a character or project that scares me a little … or a lot. I love facing my fears and getting into the work.”
This outlook has taken him far — just in the last year, he’s appeared in the films A Portrait of James Dean: Joshua Tree 1951, Love & Teleportation and Liz & Dick.
“I’m in a very creative place right now,” he notes. “I’ve been shooting a gazillion projects, from TV and studio stuff like the upcoming Rake with Greg Kinnear and the sequel to 300, to indie films — and even several web series. Theatrically, I did a run of my new one-man musical, Musical Comedy Whore [in North Hollywood>, that went just great. Now we’re looking for a place to run it indefinitely.”