What ever happen to Tiny Tim after Scrooge became benefactor to the Cratchett family that famous Christmas morning? Did he survive that operation? Did he go to Oxford? Or did he end up a busker outside a seedy music hall in East London?
And Susan Walker, that sardonic little girl in "Miracle on 34th Street?" Did her newfound belief in Santa when she got that suburban house stay with her or did she revert to her cynical side and become a hedge fund exec?
And Clara in "The Nutcracker?" Did she stay enchanted or did she develop a bizarre intolerance to pecans in later life?
These and other questions about how youngsters in classic holiday tales about Rudolph, the Grinch and Charlie Brown turned out will be explored in a stage parody premiering at Hartford's TheaterWorks. "Christmas on the Rocks," which begins performances Tuesday, Dec. 3 and opens Saturday, Dec. 7, was conceived and directed by producing artistic director Rob Ruggiero.
He turned to playwrights who have had a relationship with the theater over the years and asked them to take an iconic young character from a Christmas tale and envision them as adults in a short play, 10 to 15 minutes in length.
"We were looking for a holiday show that would keep the theater open between subscription shows,' says Ruggiero. Many theaters — including TheaterWorks — present David Sedaris' "The Santaland Diaries" as an alternative holiday show. But after three productions of "Santaland" over the years, Ruggiero wanted something new.
"We looked at 'It's a Wonderful Life" and a one-man 'Christmas Carol,' but who wants to see that when you have a full-out production of "A Christmas Carol" down the street [referring to the Hartford Stage annual holiday show]."
Ruggiero was also looking for something with what he called "a TheaterWorks twist," something "funny but dark and not saccharine" view of the season of giving and taking.
In thinking of holiday films, TV specials, ballets and stories, Ruggiero came up with the idea of doing a puckish follow-up to these tales by looking at these young characters as adults whose lives hadn't turned out quite what they expected."
Participating playwrights are Pulitzer Prize finalist Theresa Rebeck (Broadway's "Seminar"), Jonathan Tolins (off-Broadway's "Buyer and Cellar"), John Cariani (off-Broadway's "Almost, Maine"). Jeffrey Hartcher (TheaterWorks' "Mrs. Mannerly"), Matthew Lombardo (Broadway's "High," "Looped"), Edwin Sanchez (Hartford Stage's "Clean") and Jacques Lamarre (TheaterWorks' "I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti).
But where do you set these individual stories that will give them a unified sense of place — and that won't bust a theater's budget? "'Where do you go when you've been traumatized by Christmas?" asks Ruggiero.
He envisioned a seedy bar in a kind of existential limbo somewhere "in the Christmas cosmos," overseen by a bartender played by Ronn Carroll. Two other actors — played by Christine Pedi and Harry Bouvy — will play the disillusioned characters.
For Tolkins, he gravitated to "Miracle on 34th Street" and the character of Susan (played by a young Natalie Wood in the 1947 film).
"That movie is great," says Tolins from his Fairfield home. "One of the things I focus on [in some of my works] is real estate and the climax of this film is about getting a house so it was a great fit."
Tolins says even if the film is a fantasy "it's played realistically so I can ask myself how complex can I make this character and give her a journey, even if it is a very short play?"
Writing a 10-minute piece was an assignment Tolins found "liberating,' thinking and writing notes over a period of days and then devoting a day to the work. "You don't have time to get in your own way and that's the challenge in most writing: just to get out of your own way creatively as much as possible."
The assignment was tougher for Cariani.
"You'd think this would be a breeze for me given the nature of the type of short pieces I write for my plays [including the upcoming 'Love/Sick' to be presented at TheaterWorks this spring]. But this was the hardest thing I've ever done," says Cariani, speaking from the set of TV's "The Good Wife" where he was performing as an actor.
The character he writes about for the TheaterWorks show is Ralphie the BB gun-coveting kid from the 1983 film "A Christmas Story." "I'm still having a problem with the ending."
For Theresa Rebeck, writing a 10 to 15 minute play can be frustrating or a breeze. "Either you get lucky or you don't." she says from her home in Brooklyn. "In a way, it's like writing a short story and you just have to find that fist to punch through something in the end."
For the project, playwright Theresa Rebeck, who received a doctorate in Victorian era literature, was attracted to the character of not so Tiny Tim in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."
"As fond as I am of it, I'm really tired of all the 'Christmas Carols.' But she became intellectually intrigued about Dickens' characters' post-story reaction towards Scrooge's sudden generosity.
"Dickens would probably be enraged by it but I think it's intellectually respectful. And it speaks to my spirit. I'm quite disturbed by what politics and culture have become and all its nihilism. I think there's a yearning to get back to something that has real meaning."
Context is All
"What's really amazing," says Ruggiero, "is that if you didn't put their names on the pieces you couldn't tell who wrote what."
He says the styles of the short plays range from irreverent to zany to touching. "Though it's not a conventional holiday entertainment, I had to give in to the whole evening and reconnect with the holiday spirit. When all is said and done we had to make our way back to that. There's something about the holidays that makes everything OK."
Were there any copyrights issues regarding the project? Ruggiero says he had the plays vetted by attorneys who assured him that "we were functioning under the framework of parody, like 'Saturday Night Live' or 'Silence! The Musical,' [an off-Broadway spoof of the film 'Silence of the Lambs].' We're not replicating the visuals or using imagery from the films. We are making a parody of these characters as middle-aged people."
All the writers will share in the modest royalty from this and future productions of the show.
Ruggiero hopes to make "Christmas on the Rocks" an annual event if the run is successful — and perhaps getting several other playwrights to participate in future years where the pieces can be mixed and matched and perhaps made into a two-show event. Ruggiero says David Lindsay Abaire (Pulitzer Prize winner for "Rabbit Hole") couldn't participate this year but would like to take the character of Zuzu, George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart)'s daughter in the film "It's a Wonderful Life."
CHRISTMAS ON THE ROCKS will play TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. Previews begin Dec. 3. The show runs Dec. 3 to 22. Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 2:30 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $35 to $50. Information at 860-527-7838 and www.theaterworkshartford.org.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times