Saturday, December 6, 2014

Twist Your Dickens—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

A Kockeyed Khristmas Karol

This is based on the Second City’s version of Dickens’s, A Christmas Carol by Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort.  It is playing at PCS, 128 NW 11th Ave., through December 24th and is directed by Ron West.  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org or call 503-445-3700.

There probably have been more adaptations, modernizations and re-imaginings of this classic tale than any other Christmas story.  Some have becomes classics themselves, the best is the British film with Alaister Sim; some have been musicals, the best being Scrooge with Albert Finney; others, animated, like the very good, MacGoo’s Christmas Carol; also, updated versions, like the rather good, but preachy, Hallmark television special many moons ago, Carol For Another Christmas with Sterling Hayden; and now we have the irreverent, Chicago, Improv version, akin in humor to SNL sketches or South Park.

Does anyone not know this famous story?  Well, for those couple of you who may not, here it goes with a Reader’s Digest version:  Once upon a time there was this miserly, loathed old man who was very mean to everybody, including his poor clerk, Bob Cratchit, and his jolly nephew, Fred, who is given a chance to redeem himself, by his equally odious partner, Marley, now deceased, by visitations of the Ghosts from his Past, his Present and the Future, in order that he might see the errors of his way and be redeemed, which he is, and spreads good cheer and loads of money to all…ever after.  Whew!

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, you can throw most of it out the window, as they follow the skeleton of the story but have twisted, skewed, and bastardized it so much that it is only barely recognizable…and I do mean those comments as compliments.  The play starts off traditionally enough (except for the Barbershop Quartet by the four Ghosts) until a person from the audience(?) comments that Cratchit is wearing a blue tooth in his ear and someone is drinking from a Starbuck’s cup.  The story goes sideways from there.

Some examples are that Scrooge (Craig Cackowski) is approached by a variety of people needing money or loans, including George Bailey (John San Nicolas), fresh from It’s A Wonderful Life, and his nephew Fred (again, San Nicolas), acting like the Mad Hatter from Alice In Wonderland. Eventually he gets to his bed and is beset by the Spirit of Marley (the versatile, San Nicolas) chastising him for his misdeeds but also revealing the sins from audience members (names I’ve withheld to protect the…guilty).  He goes on a whirlwind ride from the skateboarding, Ghost of the Past (Sam Dinkowitz) and visits the Cratchits, the even-tempered, Bob (Nicholas Kessler), the maniacal, Mrs. (Lauren Modica) and the pokey, Tiny Tim (Chantal Degroat).  The audience is asked to offer which decades they wish to see of their Pasts.

Then he gets a visit from the Present (Jaime Moyer), a rather hung-over “Spirit,” who takes him to a recording studio, where a famous singer (again, Moyer) is belting out her own versions of Christmas Carols, asking the audience their favorite songs, which she manages to mangle.  Also, we visit his past love, Belle (again, Degroat), who introduces us to her new boyfriend (San Nicolas) and the audience is asked to supply a profession for him.  We then visit the supposed “original” ending of the Charley Brown Christmas Special, in which the characters are criticized for only concentrating on the Christian religion in their presentation, until it is pointed out where the Christmas tradition came from.

Finally, Scrooge is presented with the Ghost of the Future (again, Kessler)—technically, Yet-To-Come, because the future is changeable, depending on Scrooge’s actions (I know, picky, picky).  But he has to communicate with him through Charades, since the Ghost is not allowed to speak.  And I might add that the characters of Batman, Dorothy from Kansas, Little Orphan Annie, as well as local celebrities are added to the mix throughout the show to contribute to the madcap merriment.

Improv is a large part of the presentation, as it was with the troupe who created it.  It relies on the spontaneity of the actors in creating situations/dialogue on the spot and interacting with the audience.  As funny as the rehearsed bits are in the show, this Improv addition is key to its success and is what makes the production unique, being that an audience will see a somewhat different show every staging of it.  And director, West, not only keeps the show moving at a quick pace but also has chosen his cast carefully, especially for their aptitude in the Improv technique.

This is an excellent ensemble and extraordinary in their comedic skills!  Most of them are returning veterans to this production from last season.  And I have reviewed our local actors, San Nicolas, Dinkowitz, Modica and Degroat before in other comedic and dramatic roles and have touted their skills in the Arts.  And Kessler, Moyer and Cackowski are also terrific performers.  Keep in mind that a cast of seven performs over 50 characters on stage, which is no mean feat.  And Improvisations is one of the hardest forms of theatre there is, so I applaud their outstanding efforts in this production!

I recommend this show but, because of the irreverent humor and adult language, it may not be for everybody.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.