Second City’s Twist Your Dickens at The Kennedy Center (review)

Dickens—that stuffy purveyor of eternally drab tales—gets a refreshing and quirky upgrade in The Second City’s Twist Your Dickens, the Kennedy Center’s merry holiday fare that will help you end this disturbing year with levity. 

Twist Your Dickens is one part A Christmas Carol, one part every other famous Christmas story, and one part improv. Mix it all together, and you get a barbershop quartet wearing skeleton masks introducing the 1843 tale of Ebenezer Scrooge (John Lescault). Who, as we all know, meets the Ghosts of Christmas Past (Frank Caeti), Present (Jaime Moyer), and Future (someone dressed in a faceless Death cloak) one Christmas eve. The Cratchit Family—Mr. (Aaron Bilden), Ms. (Anne Bowles), and Tiny Tim (Tia Shearer)—and Marley (Jamie Smithson) all make appearances, as do the Three Kings, George Bailey, Charlie Brown, and Misfit Toys.


The cast of The Second City’s Twist Your Dickens at The Kennedy Center (Photo: Teresa Castracane)

The joy in this show—as in many Second City productions—is the fusion of pop culture and audience participation with a classic story (or histories) in order to show us something important about ourselves, like how ridiculous hipsters can be and that our greatest misdeeds are often someone else’s greatest laugh. Example? As the Three Kings bicker, accusing the one carrying gold of upstaging, they lament that such a valuable offering creates welfare dependents. “Just have another baby and wait for the gold man to show up!”

The cast interjects plenty of DC-specific shout-outs, perhaps thanks to some local members in the cast —Shear Madness, Shirlington, U Street, Ford’s Theatre—and gives sly nods to larger, national stories. “The theatre should be a safe space,” says the obnoxious fake audience member (Frank Caeti), who constantly reminds the players to stick to the story and the reality in which it was written. A Bluetooth device has no place in a play written in Victorian England. Because. It. Did. Not. Exist. Then. Fact.

(l-r) Jaime Moyer, John Lescault, Aaron Bliden and Tia Shearer in The Second City's Twist Your Dickens at The Kennedy Center (Photo: Teresa Castracane)

(l-r) Jaime Moyer, John Lescault, Aaron Bliden and Tia Shearer in The Second City’s Twist Your Dickens at The Kennedy Center (Photo: Teresa Castracane)

But, overall, the show stays fairly apolitical, making its only true grand commentary through the ever-calming, subdued world of Peanuts, with the whole gang tearing into Linus’ philosophical musing.

Want to go?
The Second City’s Twist Your Dickens
closes December 31, 2016
Details and tickets

It also takes a bit to rev-up, catching its speed when the Ghost of Christmas Past enters on a skateboard and to Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus.” Caeti brings the 1980s and a real Bill and Ted sensibility to all he does. The Ghost of Christmas Present is pretty outrageous, too, and Moyer shows up in this segment also as the boozy Ruby Santini, singing Christmas ballads but with slightly more offensive lyrics. Also, Tiny Tim holds a pretty rad slumber party.

This isn’t to discount some of the funnier early moments, like the irritating laugh of Nephew Fred (Smithson) or Marley breaking parts of his chain to read audience written misdeeds, which include “I convinced my brother that our mother loved me more.” So, as you enter the show, don’t forget to write your misdeeds down (there is a table set up as you enter). Improv depends on you!

Despite a packed house Wednesday night, the audience wasn’t as riotous and whooping as I have seen, which can buoy improv with enormous energy. Or not.

Still, the ensemble was full of fun, with Lescault giving even old Scrooge some much needed mirth and delivering a truly wise observation. “The happiness he gave us,” Scrooge recalls while watching a Christmas party at his old employer, Mr. Fezziwig, “was as great as a fortune.” A lovely, profound truth to remind us to breathe in those we love this season.

Second City’s Twist Your Dickens is totally worth a watch. And don’t forget to play (and sing) along.


Second City’s Twist Your Dickens . Written by Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort. Directed by Marc Warzecha. Featuring Aaron Bilden, Anne Bowles, Frank Caeti, John Lescault, Jaime Moyer, Tia Shearer, and Jamie Smithson. Production: Alberto Segarra, Lighting Design; Ivania Stack, Costume Design; Tom Buderwitz, Scenic Design; Hope Villanueva, Stage Manager; Bekah Wachenfeld, Production Design. Second City Theatricals: Andrew Alexander, CEO/Executive Producer; Brian Loevner, Managing Producer; Jeremy Smith, Producer; and Beth Kligerman, Casting.



Kelly McCorkendale About Kelly McCorkendale

Kelly McCorkendale is a dog-lover, avid quilter, and occassional creative writer who loves the color orange and boycotts cable (except “Game of Thrones” because, well, what if winter is coming!?). After college, she realized poets weren’t in demand, so she shipped off to Madagascar with Peace Corps. Since then, she’s found a niche working on health systems in Africa but has a long-list of life tasks yet to be fulfilled–such as perform blackmail, learn a trade, and become a competitive eater. She has an MA in International Education, believes rice is the elixir of life, and, in high school, won the best supporting actress honor for the state of Missouri. She may also recite poetry (her first love) when imbibing in alcohol.



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