I have seen so many holiday shows, I feel like my eyes are bleeding melted candy canes and holiday cheer. And I'm seeing another one tonight! (Sidenote: One holiday performance I didn't go to is Liminal's Santa, E.E. Cummings' tale of killing Santa Claus. Jenna Lechner reports on it here.) Today's report is on the Second City's Twist Your Dickens, Portland Center Stage's partly-improvised retelling of A Christmas Carol, with performances through December 24. The results are mixed.
The good? Twist Your Dickens is not a straight-up parody of Dickens' morality play, for which we should all thank PCS. Instead, writers Bobby Mort and Peter Gwinn (previously of The Colbert Report) have concocted a skeletal narrative framework around which the cast improvises, which means every performance of Twist Your Dickens will be slightly different. Its Chicago/Portland-based cast is very funny, and the show's improvised segments are its best. There's even some mild audience participation that, miraculously, works, plus an adorably cartoonish Grim Reaper. (You heard it here first!)
But it turns out that Twist Your Dickens' willingness to make fun of absolutely everything is its best and worst quality, which is to say it's funny right up until it isn't. Roasted throughout: people who have MFAs (fair game), children with rickets (maybe not so much), overzealous audience members hoping for a Dickensian production free from anachronisms (sure), George Bailey (well deserved), the prevalence of orphaned children in literature and pop culture (seriously WHY), and the strange fact that one of the most celebrated Christmas tales of all time is basically about a huge douchebag who's mean to everyone. There are a handful of clunky missteps—attempts at edgy humor that just come off as callow and odd. Perhaps worst of all is "Police Navidad," and those aforementioned rickets "jokes."
Still, if your out-of-town relatives demand some iteration of A Christmas Carol—and you're too (understandably) upset by the uncanny valley residents who make up The Muppets Christmas Carol to go that route—there's a lot about Twist Your Dickens that that will make you forget you're watching one. And that's a thing to celebrate.