Durang Unfettered: Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge at New Milford’s TheatreWorks

David Begelman

Christopher Durang is a writer whose career has been one long jag of tongue in cheek. Most of his plays are laden with his flair for parody. More often than not, they thumb a nose at many of our favored notions or institutions. Consider: The Life Story of Mitzi Gaynor, The Idiots Karamazov, When Dinah Shore Ruled the Earth, and I Don’t Generally Like Poetry But Have You Read “Trees”? to name a few.

Spoofing Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil culminated in Das Lusitania Songspiel, while tweaking Sondheim resulted in Evita, the Demon First Lady of Fleet Street. Religious irreverence—undoubtedly the playwright’s reaction to his own upbringing—brought us the much lauded Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You, while poking fun at psychotherapy is thematic in Beyond Therapy. The popular The Marriage of Bette and Boo is a sardonic spin on the fitful marriage of his parents, although not without a tincture of sadness.

Having had a career as a movie, stage, nightclub, and T. V. performer, as well as composer and lyricist, no one can say that Christopher Durang has been short on energy.

Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge is the playwright’s somewhat ditzy spin on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Shortly after the curtain goes up, the audience realizes it is light years away from any semblance of a heartwarming Victorian atmosphere.

As a drama, Durang’s play is full of comedic spins on Dickens’ short story. Among these is morphing Ebenezer Scrooge’s famous Yuletide greeting, “Bah humbug!” into an expletive that occurs so often and so abruptly, another character insists it should get diagnosed as Tourette’s Disorder—had he lived in another century.

As if to emphasize the explosive nature of Scrooge’s outbursts, John Taylor in the principal role drives the point home by coupling his curse with a series of bodily tics and gyrations that sets the audience to gleeful howling.

The script gets zanier and zanier. For this reviewer, it piles up the improbable and tasteless in ever increasing amounts after a moderately funny jump start in Monty Python-type antics.

Scrooge, after being visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley (who later complains about not having had enough lines), is accompanied by the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future in the form of a curvaceous blonde (played alluringly by Regan Flynn).

The play’s dialogue continues in a Durang idiom that clashes with whatever nostalgic view of Victorian life we might have harbored. Scrooge arranges to dock Bob Cratchit’s pay in order to buy shares in “energy units” being hawked by two shady entrepreneurs by the names of Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling; Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are also mentioned, and the ghost on occasion uses a taser on Ebenezer Scrooge to get his attention. The latter returns the compliment by calling her a “blonde bimbo delivery woman.”

Tiny Tim (played nimbly on a crutch by Viv Berger) takes pride in announcing, “I only fell down 24 times today,” before his soul is incarnated into a dog. His sister Little Nell is turned into a horse, prompting her complaining mother to ask whether she will eventually be glue.

The captious Mrs. Cratchit (played with appropriate ire by Susan Abrams), fed up with squalor and complaining kids (including a crowd of them stuffed into the cellar of the Cratchit home), abandons her famished family for drinks at “A Tale of Two Pubs,” while deliberating about suicide off London Bridge. The ghost assures her she needs to be on Paxil and Zoloft.

Mrs. Cratchit eventually comes into her own as she and Ebenezer Scrooge fall in love, and cozy up in a modern apartment after being transported through a time warp to the present century. But not before Ebenezer has his popsicle at the opening of the second act, or delivers a Macdonald’s box lunch and sodas to the impoverished family of his new paramour. Had enough?

Director Bonnabeau-Harding’s challenge was to turn the script into something manageable—against all odds. The cast seems to have one hell of a time on stage, and more life was pumped into the action during several, and unfortunately all too infrequent, group musical numbers. Other amusing characterizations were turned in by Jim Lones in five different roles, and Glenn R. Couture, as an unnaturally affable Bob Cratchit. But even the most talented cast would be swimming against the tide in this less than stellar effort of Christopher Durang’s.

Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge runs from December 5 to 31 at TheatreWorks, 5 Brookside Avenue, New Milford, CT. Curtain time is 8:00 PM on Fridays and Saturdays, with 2:00 PM matinees on December 14 and 21. Tickets for all shows are $20.00 for reserved seating. Reservations can be made online at www.theatreworks.us, or by calling the box office at (860)-350-6863.

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