In Christopher Durang’s Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge, directed by Rachael Lindley at Richardson Theatre Centre, the little wife is fed up with being poor, hates the sight of her 20-odd whining, starving children and doesn’t give a fig about the true meaning of Christmas—whatever that is. This Mrs. Cratchit (a furious, hip-swinging Janette Oswald) wants out—and she’s headed for the nearest bar to down a few Tequila Surprises and maybe jump off London Bridge.
Lucky for mean Mrs. Cratchit, in this skewed version of Dickens’ classic Christmas Carol, the multifaceted Ghost of Christmases Past, Present and Future (a vivacious and forthright Laura Warner) is not exactly on her game either. She keeps landing in the wrong place at the wrong time, as she navigates space and time to teach Scrooge (a comically gruff and portly Charles A. Alexander) a lesson in life and giving.
On top of that, there are other glitches in her magical machinery. Mrs. Cratchit not only overhears the Ghost and Scrooge, but she ends up crashing the Fezziwigs’ party. Things get so mixed up, that characters from other works step into the dialogue. Little Nell (an eye-rolling and sweet-smiling Autumn Richardson) shows up with a few Happy Meals for Christmas presents. She’s poor as the starving Cratchits, but makes a few pence in a sweatshop. A lovely white-winged Christmas Angel (a shapely, wide-eyed Emily Moriarty) shows up and grants wishes that tangle the plot. Even Enron gets a poke in the form of a fake “energy-unit” Scrooge invests in.
Scrooge gets a heads-up warning about his grim future from his old partner Jacob Marley (a fast-talking Richard Stephens Jr.) looking forlorn in a ragged shirt and wearing a flimsy bicycle lock and chain. The versatile Ghost steps in and takes Scrooge from place to place—usually out of sync with her own intentions. However, it soon becomes clear that the moral of her story has gone awry. Scrooge is much more interested in the dissolute and dipsy Mrs. Cratchit than the painfully slow singing of her mournful kids, hilariously howling with hunger between verses.
I’m not sure I caught all the literary references in Durang’s 15-year-old satire, but I loved one poor man suggesting his wife cut off her hair to buy him a gift. We share the ghost’s confusion about time and place in the first few scenes, but the pace and the laughs pick up once Mrs. Cratchit starts brow-beating her kids and tripping tall, tiresome Tiny Tim (a ruthlessly cheerful Josie Thomas), who topples over and over like a felled tree.
Oswald’s snarling Mrs. Cratchit is perhaps most fun when she dreams of living in a future where feminism rules. “If it was 1977, I’d be admired for my unpleasantness,” she declares. She’s giddy as a girl when a time glitch lands her in a mink coat, and she and rich, lustful Scrooge are united in material bliss.
God bless diamonds, every one.
Most actors in the 17-member cast ably play multiple roles, outfitted in playful costumes designed by the director, and all join in to dance a jig and sing the several holiday songs. Charles A. Alexander’s simple set, constructed of a central platform with stairs on both sides, made for easy prop changes, mostly handled by actors between scenes.
Warner, as the Ghost and narrator, is a resourceful actress with terrific audience rapport. When things got a little muddled between scene changes, she stepped in with a huge smile and a flash of a blues song, and got us all back in Bah Humbug mode, having a good laugh and especially applauding the many young actors in the show.