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STAGE REVIEW

Landry’s ‘Christmas Carol’ wags the dog

Gold Dust troupe joyfully mashes up holiday classics

Olive Another as the Ghost of Christmas Past in “Mrs. Grinchley’s Christmas Carol’’ at Machine. Olive Another as the Ghost of Christmas Past in “Mrs. Grinchley’s Christmas Carol’’ at Machine. (Michael Von Redlich)
By Don Aucoin
Globe Staff / December 13, 2010

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It’s not often that Ryan Landry gets upstaged, but his own dog manages that feat in “Mrs. Grinchley’s Christmas Carol.’’

The pooch does it by giving an understated performance, something Landry has seldom been accused of, at least when working with his Gold Dust Orphans, a theater troupe that includes several skilled drag performers, including himself.

But in “Mrs. Grinchley’s Christmas Carol,’’ a Jack Russell terrier named Rhoda crosses not just genders but species to play Teeny Tiny Tim, complete with cap, red scarf, and crutch. At the finale, cradled in Landry’s arms, Rhoda gazes out at the audience, her soulful eyes defying us not to find her adorable.

Landry, of course, promptly undercuts that lovey-dovey moment with a sight gag that puts the little scene-stealer in her place. But then this indispensable actor-writer-impresario is accustomed to getting the last laugh — and often the first one, too, and many of those in between.

If he can’t get a laugh, he will gladly settle for a groan. His new, gleefully over-the-top holiday offering continues the Landry tradition of hit-or-miss, double-entendre-laden sendups and mashups that include “Phantom of the Oprah’’ and “Death of a Saleslady.’’

Landry is the very picture of free-floating malevolence as Hermione P. Grinchley, an emerald-skinned, miserly meanie with a frizzy riot of hair and a nose so large it practically warrants its own topographical map.

During the course of an eventful, tuneful, raunchy evening that takes plot from Dickens and character inspiration from Dr. Seuss, Mrs. Grinchley will learn — yes — the true meaning of Christmas. But it will take a harrowing series of visitations from — yes — the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.

Oh, and from Liza Minnelli (played by Liza Lott to palpitating, overwrought perfection).

Mrs. Grinchley made her first appearance back in 1995, in “How Mrs. Grinchley Swiped Christmas,’’ the inaugural show by Landry and the Orphans. The Grinch having since passed on (though he makes a brief, spectral appearance in “Christmas Carol’’ in the form of a huge, amphibious puppet), the widow Grinchley is now the fabulously wealthy owner of a department store.

Neither the passing of the years nor the arrival of the current yuletide season has mellowed her. “Bah, humbug!’’ is about the gentlest (and most G-rated) of the many imprecations she hurls at the world. When a young woman sings outside Mrs. Grinchley’s window, she pours battery acid on the unfortunate warbler. When she is irked by her cringing employee, Max Cratchit (Bill Hough), she thrusts his hands into a George Foreman Grill and closes the lid.

Clearly, those lesson-bearing Ghosts can’t arrive soon enough. First on the scene is the Ghost of Christmas Past, in the person of the redoubtable Olive Another, but she makes it clear she doesn’t have all night. “I’ve got Dina Lohan at 4:30,’’ she snaps briskly. But the Ghost does make time to transport Mrs. Grinchley back to those happy, innocent days when she worked at a strip joint and had a love affair with a young fellow named Dick that ended very, very painfully. For him.

Next is the Ghost of Christmas Present, played by Andre “Afrodite’’ Shoals, who is as composed and regal as ever, though Mrs. Grinchley is not impressed. “Go back to the Costco from whence you came,’’ she snarls at the Ghost. But when the Ghost takes her to the Cratchit household, a flicker of something like human emotion passes over Mrs. Grinchley’s bilious visage.

And what heart would not be moved by the plight of this family, which is struggling to pay the cable bill while fretting about the health of Teeny Tiny Tim and coping with the drunken outbursts of Mrs. Cratchit? As portrayed by Penny Champayne (the stage name of Scott Martino, who also designed the show’s witty costumes), the raucous Mrs. Cratchit amounts to a subversion of the traditional Dickensian archetype, as does the whole show.

By the time the skeletal Ghost of Christmas Future gives Mrs. Grinchley a gander at the grim fate awaiting her, the old dame is ready to repent of her penny-pinching ways and embrace the holiday spirit. Sort of. Rhoda would still be well advised to watch her step.

Don Aucoin can be reached at aucoin@globe.com.

MRS. GRINCHLEY’S CHRISTMAS CAROL

Created by: Ryan Landry

Directed by James P. Byrne

Lights, Dr. Jen Bird. Sets, Mike Brisbois. Costumes, Scott Martino.

Presented by Ryan Landry and the Gold Dust Orphans

At: Machine. Through Dec. 19. Tickets $35-$45. www.brownpapertickets.com/event/137611.