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A Timeless Classic

December 13, 2007

There's a commonly held belief of the best art as being timeless - that they somehow transcend time and place. I struggle with this idea with regards to the theatre though. As probably the most immediate artform, its mode of attack is often very much in the moment. As a result, some great plays date fast. Some awful plays date fast too.

Christoher Durang's Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge doesn't quite fit into either category. It's by no means a great play. It's not even a good one really. But it at least takes the piss out the idea of the timeless classic in a clever way.

During the rehearsal process for SF Playhouse's current production of Mrs. Bob Cratchit, director Joy Carlin exchanged emails with playwright regarding the timeliness of some of the references in the play. Carlin was concerned that some audience members might not get Durang's passe references to Leona Helmsley and Mia Farrow. In the case of the orphan-collecting Farrow, for instance, she suggested substituting Angelina Jolie.

I think Durang was right to stick to his guns and insist on retaining the slightly out of date references for SF Playhouse's production. "I don't know that the play needs to be's a bit outside of time," he wrote in one of his emails to Carlin (which the theatre company reproduced in the program notes.)

Unlike the Charles Dickens' source upon which it is based -- and lovingly lambasts -- Mrs. Bob Cratchit certainly isn't a timeless classic. But I think having out-of-date references perfectly sends-up the timelessness of A Christmas Carol and the Helmsley and Farrow references work very nicely in that regard. I wish more playwrights had Durang's sense of humor.


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