Jingle-Bell Crock

Mrs. Bob Cratchit drinks to holiday excess.

Scrooge seeks a little lovin' from Mrs. Bob Cratchit.
Scrooge seeks a little lovin' from Mrs. Bob Cratchit.
If your idea of Christmas cheer involves acid-tripping with Turner Classic Movies, Cleveland Public Theatre's got the show for you. Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge, an absurdist hodgepodge of holiday classics that plays like Dickens hopped up on paint thinner, starts its four-week run this Thursday.

The story ends up in 1970s New York, but unfolds over 1840s England: There, Bob Cratchit has brought home yet another homeless child to join the 20 others in the basement. When his exasperated wife Gladys drowns her sorrows at the pub, the cocktails send her seeking the nearest bridge. That's where she encounters the ditzy Ghost of Christmases Past, Present, and Future -- the show's one-stop shop for Dickensian specters.

"She shows [Gladys] what her life would have been like," says CPT artistic director Randy Rollison. "It turns out everyone would be better off without her."

Ah, but it turns out someone needs her after all: As Christmas Carol themes blur into an It's a Wonderful Life send-up, Gladys becomes the soul mate of Ebenezer Scrooge. Soon Gladys, Scrooge, and the ghost of all Christmases are traveling haphazardly through time, terrifying bystanders wherever they land. Things come to a head when they settle in 1977 New York, where Gladys and Scrooge are now hotel baroness Leona Helmsley and her husband. (Inhale, hold, and repeat.)

The time frame is no coincidence. Mrs. Cratchit is the brain child of Christopher Durang, who was a rising playwright off Broadway in the late '70s, when Rollison worked with him at the Home Theatre. Back then, Rollison says, artists were more driven to create and produce original scripts than to make boatloads of money off them. Durang has since managed to do both: An Ivy League-educated absurdist, he later found fortune with the Tony-nominated A History of the American Film and the Obie-winning Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You. "He has the uncanny sense to take some pop-culture source and point out the ridiculous nature of things," Rollison says. "It's one of those scripts where you read it and laugh out loud, and you think, 'This is so silly.'"

After debuting Mrs. Cratchit last year in Pittsburgh, Durang filed the script in his desk drawer, opting to move on to other projects rather than peddle his Christmas goose to other cities. To Rollison, the decision to tackle Durang's play was a no-brainer. "It lands perfectly in our camp," he says. "It's irreverent, it doesn't take itself seriously, and we can take a sacred cow and exploit it."