The Second City’s "A Christmas Carol: Twist Your Dickens!"
"What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done to someone?" This is the question I and every audience member was asked while handing their ticket to the door people, instructed to write it down on a red or green slip of paper and hand it to another staff person and warned that whatever we wrote may appear in the play, The Second City’s "A Christmas Carol: Twist Your Dickens!"
After a reception of Tiny Tim-tinis and Scrooge-drivers, the lights dim and a barbers shop quartet sets the scene with a flamboyant number including pansy poses regarding the season’s gaiety. The first scene opens with Scrooge revealing a genius idea to make extra money this time of year involving stealing red Salvation Army buckets and leaving them about town, a plot he describes as, "like stealing candy from a baby who’s stupid."
And thus began the glorious foul-mouthed, raucous two hours that is Center Theatre Group and The Second City’s wickedly-crafted, inappropriate and downright offensive take on Charles Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol." The production breaks all forms of narrative structure and logical sequencing of events and revels in its random peppering of pop culture references and esoteric humor thanks to "The Colbert Report" writers Bobby Mort and Peter Gwinn and an incredibly gifted improvisational cast, shattering Christmas propriety, reverence to a classic and the fourth wall (which Scrooge actually runs into during a chase just before intermission: "Wait, come back!"
The audience is addressed throughout, even encouraged by a drunk heckler to the berate the actors, and the inclusion of everyone’s anonymous evil deeds at key moments throughout the production ensure that everyone hangs off every line of dialogue for shards of their own mischievousness.
The basics of the story remain intact [held together by splintered curling ribbon and the audience’s suspension of disbelief]; Scrooge is a miserly curmudgeon who hates charity and IKEA furniture, Bob Cratchit is trapped in ill-employ as an underpaid clerk and thinks Ebenezer is "one twisted motherfucker," and the ghosts of Jacob Marley and Christmas Past, Present and Future take Scrooge through a series of experiences aimed at giving the heartless icy bastard a scalding bitch slap of hot truth.
But like an adult version of a middle school play, "Twist Your Dickens" uses the structure of "A Christmas Carol" merely as a vehicle to riff in every direction an egg nog drunk writer could think of and in the process gives a little life to a somewhat crusty classic. Cratchit mans the office phones with a Bluetooth, Scrooge keeps a bedside knife for protection he lovingly refers to as "stabby," and Jacob Marley appears dragging chains made of the horrible things the audience had done. The Ghost of Christmas Past is sporting Tina Turner hair and channels Bill & Ted, Christmas Present shows up still drunk from the night before wearing boxers and a robe and Christmas Future plays charades with his bony fingers to communicate and points out the sorrows that will come with a light saber. Oh, and Tiny Tim has a play date with other crippled, diseased or otherwise afflicted children of the neighborhood.
Between scenes relevant to the narrative are outrageous and ridiculous vignettes that are quite possibly the high point of the entire production. All Christmas-themed but about as tangentially related as class is to Lindsay Lohan, the vignettes cunt punt the hallmarks of the season and include such timeless themes as an the never before seen ending to "A Charlie Brown Christmas," why Zales jewelry is better than personal gifts between partners, why pop Christmas albums are made by drunk douche bags, why The Island of Misfit Toys need not feel unwanted and why fumigating your house for an elf infestation leaves your house smelling of peppermint.
"A Christmas Carol: Twist Your Dickens" is exactly the kind of departure from tradition that contemporary culture revels in and is tailor-made for this generation’s need for constant quotable sound bites and obsession with the derailed train of thought celebrated by Facebook and Twitter.
The punch lines come like machine gun fire and repeat viewings are practically required -- when you laugh that hard for that long, the only logical response is to put your hand back in the fire and reach for another Tiny Tim-tini.
The Second City’s "A Christmas Carol: Twist Your Dickens!" runs through Dec. 30 at Center Theater Group, Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA. For info or tickets, call 213-628-2772 or visit http://www.centertheatregroup.org/tickets/Christmas-Carol/