Sunday, Dec. 21, 2008

Carte Blanche's "Mrs. Bob Cratchit"

By Russ Bickerstaff
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My wife has come with me to quite a few of the Christmas shows I’ve seen this month. I seem to recall a conversation with her on the way to a show some time last week . . . (one of the 9 or 10 holiday shows I went to this month) . . . on the jorney out to the show, she said to me that she was kind of sick of Christmas. She has come to understand where I stand at the end of every December. By the time the 25th actually rolls around, I’ve seen far too much staged Yuleide spirit to feel particularly festive. I muddle through the best I can.

The last few shows are the most difficult to get through. This year, due to various scheduling collisions, those last two shows happened to come on the same day for me: yesterday. In the afternoon, I went out to see John McGivern’s Winter Tales (a full review of which runs in the December 25th issue of the Shepherd) and in the evening was the one-week-only production of Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge at the newly-minted Carte Blanche Studios on 1024 South 5th Street.

The show is a spoof on A Christmas Carol taking a few swipes at It’s A Wonderful Life and the universal Christmas sentiment in general. It should be pointed out that about half of the Christmas shows I’ve seen this particular holiday season have been offbeat spoofs. This clouds my reaction to Mrs. Bob Cratchit . . . which should ideally be a refreshingly dark parody of a Christmas musical. In a season oversaturated with offbeat holiday shows, however, the last one will tend to seem derivative. The timing for me on this one wasn't good.

The show is introduced by Chastity Washington as The Ghost. Breaking with tradition, she plays all three ghosts and general story narrator. While its unlikely that this is Washington’s first time acting onstage, there is no doubt in my mind that this is the first time I’ve ever seen her onstage. She has a scrappy charisma that carries a lot of the production’s charm. If there’s a single reason to see this show, it’s Washington. As a single spirit fulfilling all of the roles of the ghosts of Christmas Past, present and Yet To Come, things get a bit mixed-up and she winds up taking Scrooge (played here by Jerome Maywald) to the right places at the wrong times. The story starts out a bit off-kilter as we see Mrs. Bob Cratchit (a gruff Meghan Dryw) revealed to be the kind of negative, abusive mother that Dickens shied away from in the original story. As it turns out, she is precisely the type of person Scrooge would fall in love with. Before long, the story tears apart into the surreal. George Baily from It’s A Wonderful Life (Adam Zastrow) makes a cameo, the psychotically positive Bob Cratchit (played with perpetual cheer by Mike Keiley) gets the wife he deserves in a world where Tiny Tim is a dog and one of his other daughters ends up being a horse named Flicka. There’s a reference to Leona Helmsley in there somewhere . . . the inspired weirdness at the end of the show is a welcome thematic demolition at the end of what has been a very long holiday season, but so much of the rest of Christopher Durang’s script treads in the most obvious and easy ways of joking about traditional holiday sentiments. There are some really promising performances here and it’s nice to see a musical that features what seem to be new Christmas songs written specifically for the show, but this is a very rough and sketchy production with a very short run. It’d be really interesting to see this thing done with a bit more polish on a bit more of a budget with a slightly longer run. As this particular production happens to run for a very limited audience on some of the coldest, snowiest days of the year, one hopes that Carte Blanche will look into the possibility of giving it another chance next year.

Carte Blanche’s Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge runs though December 23 at Carte Blanche Studios on 1024 South 5th Street.

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