A currently available recipe for holiday cheer:
1 part Charles Dickens
2 heaping tablespoons of classic Christmas television specials
1/2 cup improvisational comedy based on audience participation
2 writers from The Colbert Report
While there’s no partridge in a pear tree to round out the recipe, that's the formula for The Second City’s A Christmas Carol Twist Your Dickens playing through Dec. 30 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. While I enjoyed parts of the show, I didn’t leave with the bubbly effervescence that the holiday’s best tonics provide.
The show takes A Christmas Carol and infuses it with references to public figures, politics, and pop culture. Between scenes from Dickens’ holiday classic are sketches that have little to do with Bob Cratchit and his family. My favorite was the parody of the Charlie Brown Christmas television special. The revelation about Peppermint Patty was priceless.
Prior to the performance, theatergoers received a piece of paper on which we were asked to write the worst thing we had ever done to someone. The responses are taken backstage and later become part of the show's improv segment. How funny it becomes depends on how awful the stories are. There's entertainment in seeing these horrible transgressions incorporated into the show.
All seven cast members do a great job. I particularly enjoyed Ron West as Scrooge and Brian Stepanek as “Bob Cratchit and others.” Each performance has a special guest. John Lehr, actor and sometime Geico caveman, was the guest on the evening I attended. Like Saturday Night Live and Second City, not every joke lands. That’s the nature of sketch comedy and one of the reasons I’m not regularly found at The Improv. The rest of the audience seemed to laugh more frequently and heartily than I did.
Before I get accused of being Scrooge himself, Twist Your Dickens is a pleasant diversion. It’s better than writing up Christmas cards or braving the mall for long-postponed shopping. I just didn’t walk away thinking I’d had a great experience. It was fun while it lasted, but it didn’t linger.