Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge is an alternative to the usual uplifting Christmas stories playing during the holiday season, and Silver Spring Stage has staged an outrageous production.
Christopher Durang takes the focus off the moral education of Scrooge and instead posits the question, “What if Dickens’ Mrs. Cratchit wasn’t so goody-goody, but instead was an angry, stressed-out modern-day American woman who wanted out of this harsh London 1840s life?” The hard-drinking, suicidal Gladys Cratchit (Julie Zito) appears to have a lot in common with Joan Crawford’s character in Mommie Dearest and keeps telegraphing the message that she wants out of this family. The other two leads are The Ghost, who is scripted as a blues singing African-American woman with an over-the-top personality and a low anger threshold and Ebenezer Scrooge. She keeps him in line with what appears to be a TV remote that emits electric shocks.
The Ghost is the narrator who escorts Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Sigler) through the past, present, and future of his life. There is not much gravitas to be had as everything keeps going “kaplooey” because she can’t get her magic to work properly. In their first journey, the Ghost tries to take Scrooge to his past at but instead Scrooge is repeatedly transported to the location of Mrs. Cratchit and her eternally hungry children, many of whom are kept in the root cellar, indicated by a grate in the floor, an economical solution to a potential casting challenge.
There are unexpected additional characters, which may be a little disconcerting to someone who recalls the original tale. There is Little Nell from Dickens The Old Curiosity Shop, who appears as one of the Cratchit children. The diversity of accents of the children is apparently intentional as they have been found hither and yonder on the streets of London (they are rescue children). Bob Cratchit is played as a dim-wit who is all too tempting as a butt of Scrooge’s abuse. Scrooge is repeatedly transported to the location of Mrs. Cratchit, whose bitchiness appears to create an erotic affinity.
Many plot twists spin us through parodies of more Dickens (Oliver Twist and The Old Curiosity Shop),plus O’Henry’s The Gift of the Magi and that Capra-esque angel Clarence (David Finn) who is preoccupied with “getting his wings.” This is definitely an alternative universe.
Standouts in the performance are Peter Orvetti, playing Cratchit, who must gradually relinquish a pivotal role to his wife. Eric Small plays four different roles including Mr. Fezziwig, the Beadle, George Bailey and a townsperson. Tiny Tim was played by Maria O’Connor, whose role requires a persistent and probably physically challenging limp as well as facial contortions which never cease. Also, Kathryn LaLonde, playing one of the children, has an excellent singing voice and a distinctive speaking tone. All of the children (Aidan Emerson, Margaret Murphy, Kate Small) were excellent in roles which had few lines, often repeated over and over.
Director Star Johnson has assembled an excellent and hard-working cast who are put through a strenuous workout, and who perform the several subplots with great panache.
Musical Director Jimmy Mrose and Choreographer Eric Small made admirable contributions. Andrew S. Greenleaf designed the minimal but ‘grate’ 2-sided set. I admired the effective lighting by Jim Robertson, especially when he lit the several still-family tableaus, staged effectively by Director Star Johnson. Steve Deming’s sound design was crisp and clear. Kate Small’s costume design provided a lot of laughs. I really enjoyed the UPS Driver outfit that the Ghost wore as well as her multi-layered costumes that provided me and the audience many laughs.
Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge plays today at 2 PM and December 19-21, 2014 at Silver Spring Stafe in The Woodmoor Shopping Center-10145 Colesville Road, in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets, call the box office (301) 593-6036, or purchase them online or on Goldstar.