Dickens with Colbert Report Alumns Twist
TWIST YOUR DICKENS currently playing at the Goodman, presents Dickens' classic story swirled into a Second City comedy sketch show. The through-line is the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, with some delightful twists courtesy Colbert Report alumni Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort. The ghost of Christmas future is a practical joker, Christmas Present (Carisa Barreca) is a drunk wrigleyville "trixie.” Ron West, who also directed the show, is a gleefully nasty Scrooge.
A Modern Scrooge
A few anachronisms help bring the narrative into our era, since a money-obsessed tyrant like Scrooge could just as easily populate a Wall Street investment firm of today as a counting-house in Victorian London. Ron West’s direction helps audience make the connection: Bob Cratchit appears in period garb but wearing a Bluetooth headset. Other characters enter toting Starbucks coffee cups. In this sense, the show reminds us that Dickens’ story is not just about the “true meaning” of Christmas, but also about the injustices and material obsessions of our modern industrial society, a critique that is just as relevant today as in the 19th century.
Alongside the classic Dickensian narrative are elements familiar to any fan of Second City. Audience suggestions turn into improvised scenes or songs pulled off with typical aplomb, reflections on the absurdities of the holiday season. We see Santa get into a bitter argument with a child who he wrongfully placed on the “naughty” list. Charles Dickens himself makes an appearance to pitch movie ideas to a Hollywood studio exec. A QVC-style infomercial sells you on an innovation in Christmas stocking technology. As we’ve come to expect from Second City, the show is filled with guffaw-worthy moments as well as some biting political commentary on the state of American culture through the lens of one of its most blatantly consumerist holidays.
Improv with a Heart
As is always the case with a sketch show, some of the scenes work better than others, but this is part of the joy of watching anything Second City does—they have a way of bringing the show right up to the edge, and then spitting off of it. There was an occasional danger of losing the Christmas Carol through-line in the giddiness of some of the sketch scenes, and some of the more delicious scenes, like a radio play featuring audience interaction, felt a bit rushed, while others, like an homage to A Charlie Brown Christmas seemed to start with a fun premise but then run out of gas before running out of scene. Still, this is why we love improv here in Chicago: its messy, unpredictable, a little rough around the edges, but with a great big heart, just like the city that put it on the map. And, just like Tiny Tim, that’s exactly what Twist Your Dickens has in spades: heart.
December 2 – 30
Approximate running time: 1 hour and 45 minutes including one intermission
The Goodman Theatre
170 North Dearborn
Photos: Liz Lauren
About the Author:
Derek Barton is a Chicago-based performance artist, educator, and director of both film and stage productions. A graduate of Northwestern's Performance Studies doctoral program, his
work explores issues of sustainability, social justice, and artistic
intervention in public space.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.