A crotchety Cratchit
Unevenly kooky characters re-tell the Dickens classic
If you’ve ever been tempted to conversationally refer to your children as “Child 1 and Child 2,” be sure to check out Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge.
In the spirit of exploring the absurd for which writer Christopher Durang is known, Chico Cabaret’s latest production answers the burning questions: What if Mrs. Cratchit (Muir Hughes) were a selfish, rude, fed-up foster mom? What if Scrooge (Bill O’Hare) was Scrooge? And what if the two were somehow accidentally brought together by an adorably inept “ghost” (Vanessa Ceccarelli) who is more campy variety show hostess than narrator of a Dickens classic?
Against a backdrop that looks like the set of The Price is Right, Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge relies on verbal gags, pop culture and literary references, and silly caricatures to get laughs. Especially effective in the laugh-inducing category is M. Conan Duch as a Wonka-esque elf (along with a variety of other bizarre characters who seem to have dropped in from an episode of Laugh-In) and Tiny Tim (Khalid “Rakann” Saeid), whose interjections are classic: “Hello, Mummy! I only fell on the ground 24 times today!”
Jeff Dickenson’s cockney accent as Mr. Bob Cratchit was fairly consistent and, in a vague aside, the play touches on Mrs. Cratchit’s lack of any accent ("Are we British? I feel like I’m from Cleveland."). Child 1 and Child 2 (played by Allie Fuller and Mario Yanes), however, seemed to run the gamut from excellent cockney brogue to soft hints of something that might’ve been British (Keilana Decker, as “Little” Nell).
Although I did find myself getting the giggles at times, somehow the overall effect of the show was patchy. Hughes’ Mrs. Cratchit wavered between a saccharine-calm woman and a cruel, screaming wench, and seemed always on the verge of cracking up (literally and figuratively), which caused some squirming doubt about how we were to react to her. The resolution of the plot is ridiculous and completely unjustified (how on earth did we end up on the set of Green Acres, circa 1970!?), as we are informed by Ceccarelli as the narrating Ghost, after a quick rendition of “It’s Raining Men.”
Whether the fault is in the writing, which is admittedly random, or in the lukewarm delivery of certain sections of dialogue, the end result was kinda like the holidays: mostly entertaining, at times a crack-up, but once they’re over, you are secretly just a little glad they aren’t coming around again until next year.