MRS. BOB CRATCHIT’S WILD CHRISTMAS BINGE

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A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW BY DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM

PLAYERS BY THE SEA THEATRE REVIEW

Jacksonville Beach’s Players by the Sea wants you to have not just a merry Christmas, but a merry wacky Christmas. So this theatre group, known for its diverse programming, is presenting a holiday farce with music, by Christopher Durang.

A number of his plays have been done in this area over the years, including “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You,” “The Marriage of Bette and Boo,” and “Betty’s Summer Vacation.” Last year, “Beyond Therapy” was staged at Limelight, and “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” a Tony Award winner, was a big hit at Players.

Those of you who are familiar with Durang’s work know to expect the unexpected. “Christmas Binge” is a vehicle for his transformation of Charles Dickens’s classic “Christmas Carol” into a new version laced with wit and absurdity.

15304510_1182044481845072_2061017755117419930_oBob Cratchit’s wife Gladys has had it with husband Bob, as well as with Tiny Tim, Child # 1, Child # 2, Little Nell, and the twenty children who live in the family’s root cellar. The Cratchits are wretchedly poor, and everyone is very hungry. For things to improve, Bob has to get his salary increased. But that’s not going to happen, as Ebenezer Scrooge, his bullying employer, has cut Bob’s salary in half and is using the money to purchase energy credits.

A ghost, in the form of actress Lauren Hancock, appears to take Scrooge on a tour and show him how to be a better person. Ms. Hancock stepped into this leading role shortly before opening night and gives a remarkable performance. She wears a variety of costumes, beginning with the familiar brown garb of a UPS delivery driver.

Strange things begin happening on the tour and characters from other plays keep appearing. Visitors to Durang’s wildly embellished story include Oliver Twist, Leona Helmsley (the wealthy business woman known as “The Queen of Mean”), and Tess and Monica from “Touched by an Angel.” Clarence and George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life” move the storyline along; Clarence is played by fine comic actor Allen Morton, who looks lovely in his white robe and large wings.

Take it from us, Durang’s play, directed by Rodney Holmes is funny, even if it is satirical and absurdist. Holmes is currently an Education Instructor at Players; his name may be familiar to you as he recently starred in “Memphis,” which was a summer hit at Players.

15325228_1182044868511700_982949533642663168_oRegina Torres spends most of her time on stage as the frustrated Mrs. Cratchit who drinks heavily and plans to end her miserable existence by jumping off London Bridge into the Thames. However, she makes a later appearance as the famous Helmsley, and gives a brief sample of her marvelous operatic voice which is acclaimed throughout Florida.

The role of Ebenezer Scrooge is on the bucket list for any male actor beyond adolescence, and Lou Agresta is excellent in the role of the uncharitable miser. Mr. Agresta can be found on our local stages throughout the year, and is one of the area’s most versatile performers.

Clayton Riddley is the funniest person in this show as Bob Cratchit, who has a twinkling easy-going air, and repeatedly brings orphaned babies home to his unsympathetic wife. Mr. Riddley performs the funniest song of several in this show with “Silent Night,” an experience worth the price of admission. Caragh Zeigler is only ten years old, but is already a stage veteran with performances at Limelight Theatre and Amelia Community Theatre. She portrays Little Nell, a character who has wandered into this story from Dickens’ “The Old Curiosity Shop.”

The role of Tiny Tim was portrayed by Addison Slater, and we were amazed at her performance. She has oodles of charm and physical grace, and is line-perfect; she will tug at your heart strings while maneuvering around on Tiny Tim’s crutch.

The remaining actors are cast in multiple roles. Mary Steinke makes her first appearance as Mrs. Fezziwig, then moves on to the Beadle’s Wife and Gentlewoman # 2. Allen Morton’s roles include Mr. Fezziwig, the Beadle, and Clarence. Christiana Key plays four roles but the one we liked best was that of Nice Mrs. Cratchit, who wears one of the loveliest dresses in the play. Making his debut in local theatre, Zac Stone takes on three roles; Jacob Marley, Edvar, and George Bailey. Daniel Rodriguez as Act 2 Bartender and Gentleman # 2 is appearing in his first theatrical venture. Young Jack Niemczyk, who already has three musicals to his credit, plays young Ebenezer and Child # 2. Playing young Jacob Marley is Sakura Campbell, who attends LaVilla School and has a resume that includes theatre, film, and modeling.

If you are ready for a break from traditional Christmas offerings, then by all means see “Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge.” The actors had a lot of fun doing it and the audience had fun watching it. Again, be prepared from the unexpected (like a scene from an O’Henry story) from Durang. Costumer Amy Hancock (ghost Lauren Handcock’s mother) has fashioned attire that Mr. Durang would applaud. Scenic Designer/Charge Artist Aisha McBurnie and Scenic Artist Katie Dawson have created a Londonish background filled with tall buildings. The cast did a topnotch job with both acting and moving set pieces on and off stage.

Additional Production Staff included: Jereme Raickett and Rodney Holmes (Lighting Design); Kathryne Krueger (Stage Manager); Anita Diaz (Assistant Stage Manager); Kathryne Krueger and Allen Morton (Properties and Scenic Dressing); Bradley Akers (Sound Design); Jocelyn Geronimo (Musical Direction); Jereme Raickett (Production Manager).

The theatre is located at 106 North Sixth Street in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. Production dates are December 2 – 17, 2016; call (904) 249-0289 or visit playersbythesea.org for reservations and additional information.

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About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.