Monday, December 05, 2005

Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge - Cleveland Public Theater


Each year theatre producers scramble to find some holiday show that will fill their theatre’s seats with patrons either trying to escape from holiday shopping, find the perfect Christmas/Channukah/Kuwanza experience for their children, or view a show in which their kids, grandchildren or the kids next-door are performing.

The results vary greatly. Great Lakes Theatre Festival dusts off the set, props and costumes each year and mounts Gerry Friedman’s version of ‘CHRISTMAS CAROL.’ Magical Theatre Company exhibits a different version of ‘CHRISTMAS CAROL.’ The Cleveland Play House performs a joyful ‘A CHRISTMAS STORY.’

Both CPH and Cleveland Public Theatre decided it’s time for both to stage ‘THE SANTALAND DIARIES, David Sedaris’s classic of his short-lived experience as Santa’s elf at Macy’s. The Ballet Series at Playhouse Square Center is bringing in the Cincinnati Ballet for its interpretation of ‘THE NUTCRACKER.’ (Praise to them for not returning with the poorly conceived Pennsylvania Ballet’s version of that ballet). Beck ignores the holiday all together with “BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.’ Carousel follows the idea of doing a non-holiday holiday show as they rock their house with ‘SWING!’ which they bill as “two hours of pure entertainment!”--which it is!

So, here I go, reviewing yet another in what seems like a continuous diet of holiday offerings. This time it’s Cleveland Public Theatre’s production of ‘MRS. BOB CRATCHIT’S WILD CHRISTMAS BINGE,’ Christopher Durang’s contribution to the season.

In its search for a holiday diversion, the City Theatre in Pittsburgh commissioned Christopher Durang to write a take-off on the classic ‘CHRISTMAS CAROL.’ Durang is noted for his jester-satirist look at the world , so, his thinking supposedly went, “Why not deconstruct a holiday tradition that has become as common as petrified fruitcake?” The result was ‘MRS.
BOB CRATCHIT’S WILD CHRISTMAS BINGE’ which premiered in November of 2002. Instead of Dicken’s serious and moralistic writing, Durgang’s approach is to make fun of and sarcastically present Dicken’s story with some weird twists.

This happy perversion is emceed by a black female Ghost ("I don't believe we have Negroes in 1843 London," Scrooge objects) who triples as Past, Present and Future, but who keeps getting mixed up as to which scene follows which. Right off she runs into a Mrs.
Cratchit who won't play along, and in spite of her ghostly skills in behavior modification she eventually needs help from Clarence, the newly-winged angel to straighten things out. Yes, the angel from “IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.” This is only one of many literary, theatrical and film illusions which includes forays into ‘OLIVER TWIST,’ ‘UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, and ‘THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP.’ Durang also adds the mocking of Vice President Chaney and the energy moguls who inspire Scrooge to sell “Energy Units” in a get rich quick scheme. He even throws in a sibling rivalry between Tiny Tim and Little Nell over who is more pathetic. (I told you this wasn’t traditional Dickens.)

CPT’s production, under the co-direction of Randy Rollison and Gregory Vovos lacks polish, but is fun.

Meg Chamberlain, as she did in the previous CPT production of this show, is right on target as Gladys Cratchit. She believes she is caught in the wrong life, doesn’t like being poor, and eventually finds out that she is right and gets to switch lives. She makes the transition between desperate housewife and wealthy hotel baroness with delightful ease. And, as the tradition goes, “lives happily ever after.”

Nina Domingue plays it just right in her delightful interpretation as scattered brain Ghost. Dan Kilbane, he of big eyes and innocent face, is correctly irritating as the cloying Tiny Tim, complete with an ever-smiling face and rasping voice. Randy Rollison actually makes Ebeneezer Scrooge a likeable character, adding an interesting dimension to Durang’s mockery of Dicken’s moralistic take. Young Dan McCarthy is cute and correctly playful as Young Marley. Tom Weaver is so good as Bob Cratchit that a woman sitting near me moaned, after, once again, Cratchit acted as a wimp, “I’d like to get up on that stage and give him a smack across his empty head!” (How’s that for holiday
spirit?) On the other hand, Kevin Ritter often loses his concentration as Young Scrooge, going in and out of character.

‘MRS. BOB CRATCHIT’S WILD CHRISTMAS BINGE” runs through December 18 at Cleveland Public Theatre. For reservations call 216-631-2727.