Christmas on the Rocks – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

Harken back to your heroes and heroines of Christmas lore long past and revisit your favorites in a classic series of vignettes courtesy of Hartford TheaterWorks as “Christmas on the Rocks” reappears for its annual viewing until Monday, December 23. This is Hartford TheaterWorks’s traditional gift to the theater community and it has been a comic delight for seven years in a row. The ingenious concept of Producing Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero, it involves the creative genius of seven playwrights whose works have been produced here on stage. Each has selected a favorite Christmas character, like Tiny Tim and Scrooge and Charlie Brown, and fashioned a visit to a local bar on Christmas Eve to tell their story. If you’ve ever wondered if Tiny Tim got to throw away his crutches or if Scrooge really had his hard heart melted in a vat of milk chocolate, then “Christmas on the Rocks” might be the perfect theatrical gift to give yourself.

Have you ever cared how they have fared? Have the years been kind or cruel? Are there any surprises in their life plans?

In “All Grown Up” by John Cariani, we are reintroduced to Ralphie Parker from “A Christmas Story” and discover he is still obsessed with his dad’s lady leg lamp and his pink bunny suit. His marriage is in trouble and he turns to the bar’s friendly bartender, a genial Ted Lange of “The Love Boat” fame to listen to his tale of woe. Ralphie just may want to be nine years old forever, or at least as long as his pink bunny suit fits. Jacques Lamarre brings to the bar Zuzu Bailey who has a well founded fear of bells, because she knows that every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings. Remember her dad and the Savings and Loan and Clarence? This nervous Nellie in having “A Miserable Life” and she is suitably traumatized.

To experience the quality of Jeffrey Hatcher’s humor, come meet an elf who feels he is a misfit and just wants to belong in “Say It Glows.” Hermie wants to be a dentist and perform root canals, not be stuck in Santa’s workshop making toys. He clearly has a thing about Rudolph and his shiny nose and may just be heading for a breakdown over guilty deeds. Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas proclaim “My Name is KAREN!” as the cartoon girl Karen enters the bar with a hair dryer. She takes full credit for creating Frosty the Snowman and equally gleeful credit for his demise. The police are at the door and her arrest may be imminent.

A spiritual journey, “God Bless Us Every One,” is on Theresa Rebeck’s Christmas list. Here we meet Tiny Tim who is in the midst of a psychotic break and has serious issues with Mr. Scrooge. “Still Nuts About Him” by Edwin Sanchez focuses his talents on Clara, the ballerina, who is now married to the Nutcracker, her personal and infuriating czar of love. She fears he is cheating on her and uses her toy nutcracker to annihilate all the bar nuts in the tavern.

Last but certainly not least, Jacques Lamarre is serving up “Merry Christmas, Blockhead.” Here he is the psychiatrist/coach/love counselor for Charlie Brown and the little red haired girl of his youth. Good grief, the evening ends on a sweet and sentimental note. All the female roles are portrayed by Jenn Harris and the male roles by Randy Harrison and, with Ted Lange at the helm, they are all wonderful. Director Rob Ruggiero keeps the insanity and laughs rolling merrily along.

For tickets ($15 -75), call Hartford TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street, Hartford at 860-527-7838 or online at Performances are Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Monday, December 23. Come early and enjoy a viewing of the cartoon “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in the art gallery upstairs. The theater has undergone a renovation and is ready for your viewing enjoyment.

For a cynical, quirky and sentimental look at Christmases past, let “Christmas on the Rocks” serve you a flavorful cocktail of tasty potent potables.