There are two possible sources of the phrase "Bah, humbug." It's a case of "nature" vs."nurture." According to the "nurture" school, young Ebenezer Scrooge, during his desperate early years as a newsboy, showed his resentment with the threat: "I want to put bugs in your hair!" That's what he says when approached by the Ghost of Christmas Past -- a svelte, young African-American woman in a metallic silver sheath (who is also the Ghost of Christmas Present and Christmases to Come). When Scrooge grows into a money-grubbing, misanthropic adult, he expresses the same nasty infantile desire. More often, however, his painful childhood memories are suppressed -- remaining vestigial in his famous Yuletide oath. The "nature" school, however, takes a more physiological approach. "If I lived in another century, I'd say he had Tourette's!" as one character puts it.
These etymological insights are tossed off in the path of a post modern comic tornado called Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge which is currently wreaking merry havoc with traditional yuletide sentiment at Southern Rep. The show is part spoof, part Hellzapopin', part Christmas pantomime. Mostly, perhaps, it resembles a two-act Saturday Night Live skit. And I think the fans of the perdurable network offering will love seeing that sort of stylish knockabout really "live"; as in "happening right there, right now, in front of me."
One of the reasons Saturday Night Live has shown such astounding persistence is the charm and talent of the Not Ready For Prime Time Players (in all their many permutations). Sometimes, the scripts are truly funny. Sometimes, they're not. But, in either case, you enjoy being with the cast. The same can be said for the group that Wild Binge director James Marvel has assembled and put through the paces.
Fahnlohnee Harris (the Ghost), André du Broc (Scrooge), Lara Grice (Mrs. Cratchit), Greg Baber (Cratchit) and Raphield Howard (Tiny Tim) play the central characters. Gary Rucker, Jim Fitzmorris, Leah Loftin, Andy English and Bridget Erin take multiple roles. There are also some personable kids: Marisa Cuevas, Graham Martin, Garrison Linn and Rachel Schulingkamp. Together, they create a confident ensemble mood, and separately each has memorable moments.
Some of my favorites of these moments were Rucker and English, as bartenders, stumbling through the words of Good King Wenceslas; Rucker and Grice doing an elaborate mime of the effect of alcohol hitting their systems; Fitzmorris, as a winged angel, crossing the stage in what can only be called a slow-motion rush; and du Broc and Grice, transported to the 1970s, celebrating a solipsistic endgame of dithering lust.
The play begins in a cobblestone London square, surrounded by lovely, loopy old buildings as though drawn by a Victorian Red Grooms (in fact, the work of set designer David Raphel). Old Scrooge is whisked off to his childhood by the femme fatale Ghostette, who has a sort of magic cattle prod called a zapper with which to compel obedience (I was constantly expecting a squeal of forbidden pleasure, but it was not to be). "Hold onto my cloak and the scenery will change," she commands -- for the breaking of theatrical conventions is very much a part of the humor. As is anachronism. The characters speak of things like Paxil and Zoloff and Tequila Sunrises. The charitable gentlemen become corporate con artists selling energy units ("Our scribe worked for Arthur Anderson") and Scrooge taunts the ghost for being no more than an undigested bit of Rice-A-Roni.
Well, when dear, good-hearted, long-suffering Bob Cratchit brings home yet another foundling, his wife decides to do herself in by jumping off the London Bridge. Though in fact, she's quite attracted to Scrooge's nastiness. Meanwhile, various and sundry confusions set in, with characters from other sentimental Christmas yarns, like Clarence -- the angel from the Frank Capra movie It's a Wonderful Life -- wandering onto the stage. At one point, Tiny Tim (a large African-American man with a miniature cane) turns into a dog. One of the Cratchit children (there are 20 others locked downstairs in the root cellar) cooks a rubber chicken for dinner. Tiny Tim, however, has already dined on a rubber fish, or at least held it in his mouth for a while. "Eat sushi and like it!" his mother snapped at him. And after all, she brought the fish back in her blouse after her attempted suicide in the Thames. And so it goes.
There are several songs, all of them pleasant and appropriately sardonic. J. Daniel Stanley did the sound design; Andrea Huelse, the costumes and Diane Baas, the lights. All three did an excellent job.
In brief, a slapstick deconstruction job, decked with boughs of holly -- often amusing, though one might wish the light touch were a little less heavy-handed.
- Fahnlohnee Harris, Lara Grice, Gary Rucker (above), Greg Baber and Jim Fitzmorris provide a sassy take on the holidays with Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge.