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Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2008

Classic Parody

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December comes to the Milwaukee theater season each year like a fresh, new evergreen. And every year the theater district produces the same beloved ornaments with which to decorate it. The Milwaukee Ballet's Nutcracker goes here, the Milwaukee Rep's A Christmas Carol goes there, and In Tandem's A Cudahy Caroler Christmas fits right over here. As always, there's the reassuring comfort of another John McGivern holiday show at the Off-Broadway Theatre, and if you look closely enough you can see Off the Wall Theatre's rugged, long-running Holiday Punchcomedy show as well.

It's all very pleasant, but some people are also interested in looking beyond the traditional theater offerings. For those who want something new, a number of smaller, independent Christmas comedies have popped up this month, two of which appear at a decidedly unfamiliar place.

Just last week, the shiny, new Carte Blanche Studios, 1024 S. Fifth St., opened local playwright Neil Haven's offbeat, hipster, puppet comedy Who Killed Santa (through Dec. 21). The show, which features a comic mystery and a changing, audience-selected ending, offers impressive acting talents like Bo Johnson, Travis Knight, Amy Geyser and Sophia Dhaliwal.

Who Killed Santa isn't the only irreverent Christmas comedy Carte Blanche will be staging this season. On Dec. 19, Carte Blanche opens Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge, a musical parody of Dickens' A Christmas Carol directed by James Dragolovich. Along with the brilliant sketch-comedy The Show, this will be the second Christmas Carol parody to hit local stages this season.

From the preliminary glances, Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge appears to be a feverish lampoon of the Dickens classic and our cherished notions of an idealized Christmas. Obie Award-winning playwright Christopher Durang's parody hinges on the idea of what might have happened if the powers of the ghosts haunting Scrooge were unreliable. Antics include Scrooge showing up at the Cratchit's place too early. We also see an exasperated Mrs. Cratchit, already dealing with a complete lack of food and money with 20 children stacked in the root cellar, suddenly having to deal with her husband, Bob, bringing home another adopted child. So what else would she do but go on a massive drinking binge? Admittedly, this is very dark, strange material. But under the right conditions, it could also be extremely funny to those looking for a new twist on the holidays.

Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge runs through Dec. 23.

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