Twist Your Dickens
or Scrooge You!
A satirical Christmas send-up to ease our holiday humbug
|Second City i/a/w Goodman Theatre presents|
|Twist Your Dickens or Scrooge You!|
Review by Clint May
If you, like me, need your egg nog with a little bourbon or your favorite holiday special is “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”, Second City and Goodman have cooked up a satirical send-up just for us.
Charles Dickens’ infamous instructional framing device is as beloved to caricature as American Gothic, so of course its protagonist provides the most anchoring in our journey through holiday tropes. Francis Guinan gets to show off his considerable comedic chops as the titular character in a casting choice as inspired as Leslie Nielsen in “Airplane!”. As the only non-Second City-ite, he not only holds his own but provides some of the production’s best laughs.
Twist Your Dickens is quick to point out via an audience-planted meta-nerd that all the anachronisms of barbershop quartets, Starbucks and stacking file cabinets are perfectly acceptable in this construct. This just in case you were confused and thinking you were in the other theatre and wondering why this Scrooge was dropping some very non-Victoriana F-bombs.
Formerly of the soon-to-be-mourned “The Colbert Report”, writers Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort know how to shine when it comes to finding holiday hypocrisy. Second City is always at its best when it creates original satire mined from the inherent absurdities of its source material and weakest when it goes after trendy neologisms. That’s true of any troupe, but only more rarefied when there are such hilarious spins on “A Charlie Brown Christmas”—now with a newly restored ending that takes issue with Linus’ overbearing religiosity. Tiny Tim’s mid-19th-century slumber party-of-the-damned is a gut busting look at the various afflictions (dropsy, malnutrition) that rampaged through the lower classes. Dicken’s orphan—and sympathetic orphans of other productions—demand millionaire benefactors as they create a union of mistreated narrative devices. This to be contrasted with lazier stabs at hipsters adopting the toys from Misfit Island for their ironic appeal (just saying “hashtag[insert term]” isn’t a real punchline even if you’re Daniel Tosh) or transparent appeals to nostalgia with an 80s-styled ghost of Christmas past. Similarly, vulgar language is only mildly grin-inducing at first but loses its shock value thereafter.
Where they really shine is, of course, the improvisation. My favorite is always of the musical variety and an improvised Christmas carol from a title culled from the audience and performed by a boozy Beth Melewski is a particular delight. Be sure to think on your misdeeds beforehand so you can write them down on strips of paper to give a running gag of having them read aloud throughout the performance (really, someone got into a fist fight with their daughter-in-law at a holiday gathering?!) One improv skit revisits the zeitgeists of Christmas pasts by showing us the same scene reduxed per audience-based call outs to wryly remind us that Christmases of overbearing mothers and harried fathers are at least a century-old tradition. Each night a different Chicago celeb will feature in the proceedings so keep your eyes peeled for famous audience members – Chef Rick Bayless was the improv-guest-of-honor for our performance.
Collaborating with other quality name brands in Chicago theatre is fast becoming a Second City mainstay, and their The Art of Falling was (I’m told) a fantastic collaboration with Hubbard Street Dance. That this pairing falls short of inspired doesn’t mean it isn’t still a fairly charming, mostly inoffensive bit of PG-13 holiday spoofing to help with the humbug in your heart.
Twist Your Dickens continues through January 3rd at Goodman Theatre’s Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map), with performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 4pm and 8pm, Sundays 3pm and 7pm. Tickets are $20-$61, and are available by phone (312-443-3800) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More info at GoodmanTheatre.org. (Running time: 2 hours, includes intermission)
Photos by Liz Lauren
Peter Gwinn (Jacob Marley, others), Frank Caeti (Ghost of Christmas Past, others), Francis Guinan (Scrooge), Sayal Joshi (Tiny Tim, others), Beth Melewski (Ghost of Christmas Present, others), Robyn Scott (Mrs. Cratchit, others), Tim Stoltenberg (Bob Cratchit, others)
behind the scenes
Matt Hovde (director), Tom Buderwitz (set design), Rachel Lambert (costume design), Gina Patterson (lighting design), Mara Filler (stage manager), Casi Pacilio (sound design), Beth Kligerman (casting), Chris Mould (illustrations), Liz Lauren (photos)