By Daniel Skora
Charles Dickens published “A Christmas Carol” in 1843. The book, a ghost story that was both thrilling and entertaining, had enormous popular appeal. It also served as a call to action on other issues that affected English life, from the poverty and poor working conditions caused by the Industrial Revolution to the need to restore many of the traditional celebrations of Christmas that had fallen by the wayside. Already an accomplished writer, Dickens had high hopes for the book’s success. More than likely, he had no idea how pervasive that success would be.
In the 170 years since it first appeared, “A Christmas Carol” has never been out of print. It has, moreover, spawned countless numbers of “Carol” derivatives: movies, both realistic and animated, plays and musicals, illustrated books, a ballet and an opera. That kind of success creates imitation, especially the kind that likes to satirize.
The Dio – Dining and Entertainment in Pinckney is presenting yet another take on the story of Scrooge and his redemption at the hands of the Three Spirits. “Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge” is a parody that centers on the wife of Scrooge’s mild-mannered employee, Bob Cratchit (Steve DeBruyne).
Mrs. Cratchit is a fringe player in Dickens’ novella. Unlike other characters in the book, she’s not identified by a first name. Her sole purpose in the story is to make whole the picture of the unremarkable Cratchit family eating their Christmas dinner and to utter the words that give further proof of how unpopular Scrooge really is. When Bob raises his glass to toast his employer, she dismisses Scrooge by saying “The Founder of the Feast, indeed. I wish I had him here. I’d give him a piece of my mind to feast upon.”
Playwright Christopher Durang paints an altogether different picture of Mrs. Cratchit. Unlike the long-suffering wife in Dickens’ story, Mrs. Cratchit (Vanessa Sawson in an excellent portrayal), has, in fact, reached the point where she can no longer stand by and be taken advantage of. She’s flustered by her unassuming husband and the passel of kids he has brought into her life.
Many of the children have been relegated to the root cellar, and a few haven’t even been given names. She is woman, hear her roar, and she rebels at Bob, at the demands of her children, and at the celebration of Christmas itself. She begins taking frequent trips to a Mexican bar (??) for a little alcoholic relaxation. Eventually she links up with Scrooge (Dale Dobson) and the two discover in each other a mutual kinship.
Though her character is at the center of a great deal of the show’s plot, there’s a whole lot of zaniness going on with the other characters. Tucked amid the mayhem are parodies of other Christmas classics. “It’s a Wonderful Life” gets skewered, as does O. Henry’s story about an exchange of gifts that goes awry “The Gift of the Magi”. Little Nell from “The Old Curiosity Shop” makes an appearance and there’s some shenanigans that feature a Leona Helmsley-type character, and her relevance to the story may completely fly over the heads of the younger members of the audience.
Quite a few cast members have multiple roles. Ebony Hull plays all three spirits and serves as the show’s narrator. Tiny Tim (Brendan August Kelly) is now a young man and still using a crutch. In a twist on the “Wonderful Life” plot, he turns out to be born a dog instead of a boy. One of his siblings (Amanda Durham) suffers an equally dubious fate, being born a horse instead of a girl. Jared Schneider is cast as Mr. Fezziwig and in various other roles.
The show is directed by Steve DeBruyne. Set, lighting, and sound are by Matthew Tomich. Musical Director is Brian Rose and costumes are by Norma Polk. The Dio’s scrumptious buffet menu features Chef Jarod DeBruyne’s Signature Fried Chicken, Honey Glazed ham, salad, green beans, and mashed potatoes and gravy. Dessert is served at intermission.
“Mrs. Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge” is a colorful, fun-filled laugh fest. It’s the perfect show to forget all the holiday stresses of shopping, decorating, and baking. And the very entertaining show is accompanied by that delicious meal as well. The show runs through December 31st. For tickets and information, call (517) 672-6009 or go online to www.diotheatre.com. The Dio is located at 177 E. Main Street in downtown Pinckney.