Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge
Iowa City Community Theatre — through Dec. 9
If you’re tired of Christmas cliches and traditional holiday theater fare, you will want see Iowa City Community Theatre’s production of Christopher Durang’s Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge. Will Asmus directs a cast of characters from Ebenezer Scrooge to Leona Helmsley to Clarence the Angel. This play is a crazed, if not rollicking, ride through Christmas and cultural references past.
Josh Sazon plays adult Scrooge flawlessly throughout the two and a half hour show in which the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Future (Chastity Williams) has a faulty GPS that lands the pair in a variety of scenes. It is during these misadventures that Mrs. Bob Cratchit (Meaghan Harding) unwittingly becomes ensnared in the time travel. Harding plays an angry, tired, drunken suicidal wife to Andrew Berger’s overly sweet Bob Cratchit.
The play opens and is peppered with unexpected musical numbers supported by a solid ensemble cast that includes bartenders, townspeople and two versatile young actors (Arryana Troutman and Gavyn Troutman) who play all of the child characters. As this ghost trip gone awry progresses, Sazon’s Scrooge asks what he is meant to learn from all of the characters parading before him. Williams’ Ghost keeps re-calibrating, trying to get Scrooge in the right place at the right time, and when that fails, her reliable “zapper” shocks Scrooge into submission.
The Cratchit family itself is plagued by a self-absorbed Tiny Tim (Beau Leavenworth) who is, ironically, the tallest member of the cast. Little Nell, a character from Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop, is presented as a Cratchit child here, and Ariane Parkes-Parret succeeds in making her pathetic and annoying all at once. The family also have twenty children they “keep” in the root cellar. Mrs. Cratchit is not wrong when she repeatedly bemoans the pathos of her family and is driven to the pub more than once.
Throughout the play the Ghost attempts to teach Scrooge his annual lesson on generosity, and we visit Oliver Twist’s orphanage, a twisted Dutch version of “The Gift of the Magi,” and It’s a Wonderful Life. Durang takes aim at now-dated pop culture as well, including Enron and the Helmsley hotel scandals. The actors in the company take on the story gamely, but the story arc gets a bit lost in the antics.
The set design by Dan Anderson is minimalistic, as is the light design by Asmus, but that’s okay. The shenanigans on stage take all of the audience’s attention. Despite the minimalist set and the support of the entire cast, the numerous transitions were lengthy and clunky. Still, the audience needed those minutes to catch their breath and try to work out exactly what had just happened on stage.
While those transitions were happening, one imagines that the ensemble were changing costumes and catching their own breath. Multiple actors took on multiple roles, notably Erin Mills and Lucas Martin who brought “The Gift of the Magi” disturbingly to the stage and who also took on three other characters each. Eric A. Teeter and David Edwards balance four roles each, and rounding out the ensemble are Shay Lilienthal and Denise Troutman who portray multiple townspeople.
When you go, bear in mind that this is a Durang play, so expect the unexpected — actually, expect the downright bizarre — and be assured you will not be sitting through your typical holiday fare. If you’re wondering what happens in the end, well, so are we. But that’s a reflection on the script not on the enthusiastic actors and their performances. In the end, as Williams’ Ghost suggests: We all make up our own moral of the story anyway.