Review: ‘Twist Your Dickens’ at Second City

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If you’re yearning to kick off your holiday season with goodnatured hilarity, get thee to the Kennedy Center and grab a seat at the Theater Lab, where The Second City’s Twist Your Dickens is holding court throughout December. It is the perfect antidote to a year of woeful drama in the nation’s capital.

The cast of Twist Your Dickens. Photograph courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

A talented cast rips through Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol with breathless abandon, introducing all sorts of anachronistic elements–from Reaganomics to Starbucks cups, ’60s rock stars to bluetooth technology–while miraculously maintaining the recognizable narrative of Ebenezer Scrooge’s dramatic journey from avarice to avuncular largesse.

If you feel a bit whipped around by the fast-paced changes at the beginning of the first act, not to worry. You’ll soon catch up with the action and barrel happily along at supersonic speed. Despite the frenetic pace, however, many sketches stand out as models of sparkling originality. Watch for a protest by the Fraternal Order of Dickensian Orphans led by Oliver Twist and other of history’s most endearing fictional gamins. Indulge the cast’s pivot into a re-imagined ending to Charles Schultz’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, where Linus is challenged on his rosy interpretation of the holiday’s meaning.

The cast of Twist Your Dickens. Photograph courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

Spirited ensemble work, under the astute direction of Frank Caeti, is evident throughout. Yet each cast member has their splendid solo moments. Carisa Barreca is hilarious as a floozy chanteuse determined to record her own libidinous interpretations of Christmas classics like “Jingle Bells” during a studio session.  Aaron Bliden’s cowering Cratchit is a perfect fit for his tiny desk. Tia Shearer’s goofball evocation of Tiny Tim tugs at your heart while splitting your sides, and Paul Jurewicz’ fearless pratfalls leave us groaning and guffawing.

Interspersed with the sketch comedy is effective improv, inspired by ideas proffered by the audience both before and during the show. Dive right in – and watch your own thoughts materialize on stage in the blink of an eye!

We have Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort, former writers for The Colbert Report, to thank for an inventive script that is fresh and relevant while rarely addressing today’s headline news (well okay, there is one reference to Robert Mueller). That is actually a good thing, providing a bit of respite our daily barrage of news and topical late night TV comedy.

Scenic Designer Tom Buderwitz plunges us into the stark grays and blacks of Victorian London, providing a terrific backdrop for the merriment. Charles Dickens’ visage looms overhead through the entire production, mostly silent except for a thundering commentary in the second act, and made all the more ominous by Reid May’s excellent sound design. May does bravura work throughout, balancing ghostly reverb with a variety of other special sonic effects.

It’s impossible to count Ivania Stack’s inspired costume designs, ranging from 1840s grime to today’s hipster-wear straight out of Adams-Morgan. Speed-of-light changes add to the breathless merriment.  Lighting design by Brittany Shemuga ties this production in a bow that literally glitters with energy.

This production of Twist Your Dickens follows last year’s popular sold-out run.  If you haven’t seen it, discover for yourself why Washingtonians have a special place in their hearts for The Second City’s irreverent but good-hearted take on a timeless Christmas classic.

Running time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission.

Twist Your Dickens runs through December 31, 2017, at The Kennedy Center’s Theater Lab – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or Toll-Free: (800) 444-1324, or purchase them online.