By Karen Isaacs
Have you ever wondered if Ralphie from A Christmas Story shot his eye out? Or did Tiny Tim become a sweet and loving adult? Or perhaps you are curious about an adult Cindy Lou Who.
TheaterWorks in Hartford is satisfying your curiosity with the return engagement of Christmas on the Rocks running through Dec. 21.
The premise is clever. Imagine children from famous Christmas stories as adults and place them in, as the programs states, a local bar “in a lonely corner of the cosmos” on Christmas Eve,
Last season, Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero called on seven playwrights whose work has graced the TheaterWorks stage to each write a scene in what he calls “an offbeat collection of twisted holiday tails.” This year most of the pieces have been tweaked or revised.
As can be expected the seven vary in tone — from the sweetly comedic to the very broad — and also vary in their success. Which ones are your favorites will depend on your level of cynicism and you preference for either sweet or broad comedy.
Harry Bouvy returns to play the male characters and Jenn Harris plays the female ones; Ronn Carroll provides the continuity as the bartender, often making wry comments, looking appropriately befuddled..
So who do we see as adults?
The show opens with Ralphie from A Christmas Story entering the bar in both a touching and comedic scene by John Cariani. Ralphie — or Ralph as is now called — seems to have lost much of sweet innocence as he recounts what happened to his family following the movie success.
He is followed by the now adult, Susan from A Miracle on 34th Street. Probably this was the character that was least recognizable — we all remember Kris Kringle from the classic film, but Susan wasn’t as memorable a character. She was returned to her cynical ways before she too recaptures some of the wonder of youth. Jonathan Tolins created this scene.
Then we move to the broader comedy with Herbie the elf from the animated TV versio of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Written by Jeffrey Hatcher, I liked this piece much more this year. I’m not sure how much the script was revised but I felt Bouvy’s performance seemed less “over the top” as the gay Herbie who wanted to be a dentist. It had more humanity and less shtick.
A disheveled and alcoholic Cindy Lou Who as the ex-wife of the Grinch enters the bar next in a scene by Matthew Lombardo about her broken marriage. While I admire Lombardo for writing in Seuss-like rhyme, this seemed the most unpleasant character and scene. An adult Tiny Tim is pragmatic in the scene written by Theresa Rebeck; he calls Scrooge schizophrenic and the need for health care over-rated, Even his “God Bless Us Everyone” sounds cynical. While I thought this was the most changed of the playlets, director Rob Ruggiero told me it was in fact, the least revised. Yet, he admitted that both and the actors feel the audience reaction is different this year. Undoubtedly this is due to some slight changes in the characterizations bu Bouvy and Carroll.
Also cynical is Maria from the Nutcracker who decries the ageless handsomeness for her Prince who seems to have attraction for her brother; but yet she runs home to fix in dinner when he texts her in a scene written by Edwin Sanchez.
The evening ends with a sweet piece by Jacques Lamarre about Charlie Brown and the little red-headed girl. It strikes just right notes and truly captures the Peanuts gang. It and the opening scene were my favorites.
Bouvy and Carroll have each had a chance to deepen and refine their characterizations. Carroll seems to be reacting and interacting more with the people who enter his bar.
Harris, the new member of the cast, is still settling to her roles. She was most successful as Clara and Cindy Lou Who.
Yet, it struck me, that the women in these pieces seem to have had the most problems; or perhaps we don’t expect as much cynicism from women.
So if you’ve ever wondered what happened to Cindy Lou Who, or did the fairy tale of Maria and the Nutcracker end happily or even if you wondered about Ralphie, his BB gun and his family, you will find Christmas on the Rocks an enjoyable 90 minutes. This is definitely only for older teens and adults.
Christmas on the Rocks is at TheaterWorks Hartford, 233 Pearl St. in downtown Hartford, through Dec. 21. For tickets and information call 860-527-7838 or online at theaterworkshartford.org.