The proverbial wisdom in theater is that dying is easy; comedy is hard; and parody is tougher still.
That hasn’t stopped playwright Christopher Durang, master of dark comedy, satire, and absurdist theater, from tackling a parody of A Christmas Carol—with a little original music to boot.
The whole point of Dickens’s beloved holiday story, of course, is that because of a series of ghostly visits, the mean, miserly Ebenezer Scrooge becomes a different and better person, loving Christmas and humanity. In Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge at Silver Spring Stage, Scrooge changes only to the degree that he finds romance, happiness, and even greater wealth—no longer caring enough about people enough to say “Bah, humbug.”
…a cast that brings enthusiasm to the task in every way.
But while Scrooge is certainly a lead character in Durang’s only partially dark comedy, he isn’t the major one. That honor, as you can tell from the title, goes to a woman who is essentially minor in the Dickens story. Durang builds his clever premise around her: What if Mrs. Cratchit wasn’t so goody-goody but instead was an angry, stressed out, modern-day American woman in 1840s London who wanted out of the city’s harsh, indoor plumbing-free life?
That’s no surprise, since Mrs. Cratchit suffers not only crushing poverty but also a growing brood of adopted children her softhearted husband (read: weak, cause he won’t stand up to his employer, Scrooge) brings home.
Julie Zito hits just the right note as the bitterly unhappy, heavy-drinking, and suicidal Mrs. Cratchit, who spares neither Bob Cratchit nor her offspring her contempt and misery. She is funny while still being deadly serious.
Later Zito morphs seamlessly into an elegant, materialistic, mean, and fabulously wealthy woman married to Scrooge, in the 1970s. They are now called Leona and Harry—and who can mistake the reference to certain hoteliers?
Michael Sigler is more cold than mean as Scrooge—which fits the script. And he has one weak spot. His heart cannot be completely dead if he finds someone of the opposite sex (Mrs. Cratchit) worthy of his misanthropy, and Sigler’s eyes light up as he does.
Yvonne Paretzky is funny and sarcastic—she declares she’d rather sing Billie Holiday songs than Christmas carols–as all three ghosts rolled into one who keeps having trouble getting Scrooge to the right places. That the part was written for an African-American woman adds one more funny surprise to Durang’s play.
Peter Orvetti is properly sweet and much put upon as Bob Cratchit. Scrooge’s employee finds happiness not through Scrooge’s final generosity but because of the arrival of the right woman for him. Vanessa Terzaghi glows as that alternate wife.
Maria O’Connor is hysterical (as in “hysteria”) as Tiny Tim, both moving and annoying at the same time. Rather than deeply kind, this Tiny Tim wants very much to be the only Cratchit the world will feel sorry for.
David Flinn has fun with two very different parts—Jacob Marley’s ghost and Clarence, the angel “borrowed” from another beloved holiday staple, the Jimmy Stewart movie It’s a Wonderful Life.
That brings me to a major aspect of Binge, as it is known for short. Much of the humor comes from Durang’s classical and contemporary references—which include two other Dickens characters (Oliver Twist and Little Nell) showing up where they don’t belong; O’Henry’s story The Gift of the Magi; and Mia Farrow’s penchant for adoption. The play is funny even if you don’t catch all the references (younger audience members in particular might not), but it helps.
There are also a few anachronisms, such as what the Cratchits eat for Christmas Eve dinner—I don’t want to spoil the surprise.
While the laughs are uneven, Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge delivers a lot of Christmas cheer through semi-dark humor. Scrooge, for example, declares of the young Jacob Marley (Kathryn LaLonde): “He doesn’t have many lines, but he does enjoy the ones he’s got.”
The acerbic Mrs. Cratchit has a number of good lines. When Tiny Tim says, “I love you,” she replies tartly: “Shut up. You’re just hungry.” In a line that endears her to Scrooge, she laments: “If this were 1977, I’d be admired for my unpleasantness.” And this about her husband: “I hate this man. He’s so superior in his suffering.”
It’s impossible to name everyone in a large cast, in which some actors play two or three roles. But this is a cast that brings enthusiasm to the task in every way.
Star Johnson, who is also one of the producers, drew overall good performances from the cast and effectively staged the play with the minimalism befitting 1840s London. Costumes, on the other hand, in the hands of Kate Small, were more elaborate and appropriate to the period. Also lovely were the cocktail dress of the ghost and the gown worn by Leona.
Jimmy Mrose was music director over saw four original songs (with lyrics by Durang and music by Michael Friedman) and some carols. Eric Small choreographed.
Stacey Axler stage-managed. Andrew S. Greenleaf was set designer and master carpenter to a simple but flexible set. Jim Robertson was lightning designer, and Steve Deming, the sound designer.
Advisory: There is occasional very mild language .
Running Time: 2 hours and 5 minutes long, with an intermission.
Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge plays through December 21, 2014 at Silver Spring Stage, Woodmoor Shopping Center, 10145 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD 20901. For tickets and information, call 301 593-6036, or click here.