By Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort
Directed by Matt Hovde
Produced by The Second City and The Goodman Theatre
At the Goodman Theatre’s Owen Theatre
Dickens…Twisted, Not Scrooged
As it would be my first Second City show, I had great expectations for Twist Your Dickens. It is, after all, penned by two Emmy-winning, former writers from The Colbert Report; produced by one of the most iconic names in improvisational comedy in the world; and starring veteran Second City players Peter Gwinn, Beth Melewski, and Tim Sniffin. Yet, while the audience seemed to receive the comedy with nearly incessant laughter, I personally found the show to be stale, tedious, and unfulfilling on its promises to offer “wicked parody and daring improv.”
This will be Twist Your Dickens’s second year parodying Dickens’ The Christmas Carol. The “story,” if you will, follows most of Dickens’ original plot points but peppers in many minor skits that play on other holiday classics. For instance, we get to see the network-pulled ending to Charles Schultz’s A Charlie Brown Christmas; some neglected toys from the Island of Misfit Toys find their new homes and ironic relevancy with two American hipsters; and even George Bailey makes a cameo appearance. There are also other, completely original skits (the better ones, in my opinion), and some portions of the show (the best ones) involve audience participation.
Despite the unpredictable nature of the show’s overall progression – one minute you’re following Scrooge and an 1980s-era Ghost of Christmas Past, the next you’re in a recording studio with a sloshed lounge singer named Ruby Santini – most of the individual scenes felt too rehearsed and succumbed to a forecasting effect on many of the jokes, which spoiled the surprise of the punch lines. This also contributed to the production’s sense of staleness – surprisingly, only aggravated by the writing, which neither teased the line of “wicked” nor toed the precipice of “daring,” but (probably wisely) embraced the Christmas spirit with good-will, inoffensive comedy. And, though I stand in awe of the actors’ improvisational skills, even moments that simmered with the energy of the unexpected often ended with a predicable whimper.
This is not to say there weren’t some delightfully funny moments. Peter Gwinn as Marley has an arresting charisma and handles the audience read-outs with a sharp understatement that enhances the bizarreness of the confessions. Sue Salvi really shows her 15-plus years of improv experience in her wonderfully-timed, hilarious and fresh portrayal of the limping Tiny-Tim. And Tim Sniffen and Danielle Pinnock both have some very witty moments, especially as two overjoyed, American children opening their presents on Christmas morning.
There is probably much more humor in this production than I am capable of appreciating: after all, it’s hard to believe a general audience of over a hundred people are merely being polite in their laughter. Comedy seems to be a matter of taste, and I imagine that if you’re a fan of improv in general and Second City in particular, this show has your taste in mind. With its good-natured, Christmas-spirited humor, Twist Your Dickens will most likely leave you sore with merriment.
Reviewed on December 10th, 2015
Playing at the Goodman Theatre’s Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago. Tickets are $10 – $61. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4:00 pm and 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 3:00 pm and 7:00 pm – through December 27th. (Additions and exceptions include: additional performance at 7:30 pm on Monday, December 21st; additional matinee performance at 3:00 pm on Tuesday, December 23rd; and no performance on Friday, December 25th). Running time is 2 hours with no intermission.