"Twist Your Dickens" Review - Dickens with a twist

“Twist Your Dickens”, currently in it’s second run at The Owen Bruner Goodman  Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, and extended through January 2, 2016, is a collaboration with Second City Theatricals. The intimate space, which features three levels of informal courtyard seating, is a fine choice for this spoof combining Second City’s charachteristic improvisational style with a very funny series of takes on various “Charles Dickens" charachters , including  jokes about “A Christmas Carol”, being staged next door at The Albert Ivar Goodman. There are also hilarious riffs attacking cultural icons of other decades, and sending up the politically correct. Hanging above the stage is a large caricature of Charles Dickens himself; in the second act his voice harangues the audience.

Dickens above the stage

The script is a loose conglomeration of skits: some call for audience involvement and some include a purported audience member who pops up repeatedly berating the cast for their puns and corny allusions, and then comes onstage to heckle and join in the fun. The versatile ensemble members, in their nutty costumes, seem especially to delight in extensive profanity: it does get a lot of laughs. “Twist Your Dickens”, the brainchild of Colbert reporters Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort, is directed by Matt Hovde, and stars the Second City players Peter Gwinn, Beth Melewski and Tim Sniffin, alongside the venerable Francis Guinan  as Scrooge and the truly talented Sue Salvi as a  profane seeker of alms.

Scrooge with the heckler

The problem with this production is it’s overall feeling of disorganization; it’s a combination of the ridiculously sublime with the stale and uneven. George Bailey with the voice of Jimmy Stewart appeared too often; repeated imitations of starving and crippled children become less funny the second or third time around; what point could there be in a prolonged caricature of Liza Minelli; the supposedly cut ending from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was too long and inane. To be fair, perhaps we all want too much from Second City: we expect each performance to be completely new and fresh, while other shows can run each year with the same script and audiences cherish the chance to see them over and over again. After all, The Goodman itself has been staging “A Christmas Carol” now for 38 seasons, albeit with evolving sets and actors.

Tiny Tim in the middle

Having said that, on the night this reviewer attended, the audience roared with laughter at each and every appearance and utterance of Scrooge, Marley, Tiny Tim and the Second City players. Every joke was well-met with guffaws, every allusion caught and appreciated, all the expletives seemed right-on. The vehicles for audience participation, asking us to select a decade to lampoon, and choosing slips of paper upon which patrons had previously been asked to write down the worst thing we’d ever done - (none of them were very naughty)-resulted in impromptu-seeming witty bits that were much-appreciated. There can be no doubt the audience went away happy, and isn’t that the essence of a successful show.

Improvising

 For more information and tickets for “Twist Your Dickens”, please go to  thegoodmantheatre website

Scrooge and the cast

All images courtesy of Liz Lauren

 

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