Critique of the Week

Tony Frankel is back to his old tricks. Check out this bender. Have a cup of coffee beforehand though…

A CHRISTMAS CAROL: TWIST YOUR DICKENS
Tony Frankel – Stage and Cinema

SECOND CITY OFFERS A LUMP OF COAL

Scene 1—INTERIOR OF SPOOGE AND FARLEY’S CRITIC HOUSE

(EVERWHEEZER SPOOGE, an irascible, irritated editor-in-chief and theater critic, is hunched over his laptop in his impoverished surroundings, trying to finish a review of Twist Your Dickens. His proofreader, STANLEY SNATCHIT, sits at another desk. There are various filing cabinets, and a bucket of theater programs. At rise, SNATCHIT goes to throw a piece of coal into the pot belly stove.)

SPOOGE: And what do you think you’re doing, SNATCHIT?

SNATCHIT: It is awfully cold, Mr. Spooge. (He shows his fingerless gloves.) When do you suppose they will invent gloves with fingers on them?

SPOOGE: That line was barely tolerable last night, and you dare to repeat it here?

SNATCHIT: But it did elicit a chuckle, Mr. Spooge. You must admit there were a few in The Second City’s A Christmas Carol: Twist Your Dickens. I do so wish you would let me write the review.

(SNATCHIT goes to throw a lump of coal into the stove. SPOOGE slams his fist on the desk.)

SPOOGE: Waste!

SNATCHIT: Beg your pardon, sir?

SPOOGE: Waste, Mr. Snachit! Waste! Your cheerleading reviews of middling and pedestrian theater will do us no good. We are here to destroy mediocrity, not perpetuate it. If you waste my time, you might find yourself without employment!

SNATCHIT: But, sir, you don’t pay me.

SPOOGE: Welcome to 21st Century theater criticism, you vile speck of confounded perkiness.

(Again, SNATCHIT goes to throw a lump of coal into the stove. Again, SPOOGE slams his fist on the desk.)

SPOOGE: Waste!

SNATCHIT: Beg your pardon, sir?

SPOOGE: Waste, Mr. Snachit! Waste! Put the coal back in the bin and use one of these programs instead.

(SNATCHIT hesitantly tosses one of the many, many programs from Christmas-themed theater into the stove. When he goes to toss another, SPOOGE slams his fist on the desk.)

SPOOGE: Waste, Mr. Snachit! Waste!

SNATCHIT: Begging your pardon, sir. But why do you keep repeating, “Waste, Mr. Snatchit! Waste!”?

SPOOGE: So that you will understand that lines which are barely funny in the first place do not become funnier upon repetition. Do you not remember at the show last night when Scrooge (Ron West—who I must admit is delightful as Dickens’ famous miser) kept turning away petitioners for donations? Each time, the solicitors responded to his parsimony with, “You’re one cold-blooded motherfucker.” The third time, when Ebenezer turned away a girl scout selling Thin Mints, she repeated the line, and you could hear more crickets chirping than at a Chinese Good Luck Festival. I haven’t heard that kind of dumbfounded silence since Christie Brinkley tried her hand in Chicago at the Pantages. Now get back to proofreading our list of the worst theater of 2012.

(Enter SPOOGE’s Nephew, FRAUD, holding out some theater tickets.)

FRAUD: A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you! I am reviewing a show tomorrow, and I’d like you to join me to see It’s a Wonderful Nutcracking Christmas Carol Cabaret in Coney Island!

SPOOGE: Humbug.

FRAUD: Christmas theater a humbug, uncle? You don’t mean that, I am sure!

(FRAUD puts the theater tickets in SPOOGE’s gnashing teeth. SPOOGE ejects them with a disastrously unfunny spit take.)

SPOOGE: I do. What is Christmas theater but a way to sell tickets to patrons desperate to recreate the joy they once knew before Corporate America began shoving the holiday down their throats? It has become a time of year for buying tickets to shows for which you’ve no need nor money to see. A time for finding theater a year older and not any better. What reason do you have to be Merry? You’re seen enough bad theater.

FRAUD: What right have you to be dismal? You don’t pay for the tickets.

SPOOGE: Bah! Well, let me tell you. The Center Theatre Group, clearly believing there isn’t enough talent in Los Angeles to create some kind of holiday show, has now brought Twist Your Dickens to the Kirk Douglas Theater. It’s created by folks with Second City. Certainly you have heard of that preeminent club and school in Chicago which is the birthplace of comedy improvisation. Since 1959, Second City nurtured some of the brightest talent in comedy, expanding to Canada in 1973 (remember SCTV?). Not only did they have remarkable teachers, but actors, writers, directors, and comedians all learned from each other, and that little club in Old Town became a starting point for a sky full of stars. But in recent years, something has stopped them in their useful course: They have become an expanded conglomerate, with both resident and touring companies, producing sketch/improv shows for Norwegian Cruise Lines and “theatrical” shows like Twist Your Dickens for regional theaters. Second City in Chicago has become a tourist machine, and, based on two “revues” I have seen in the last year, remarkably uneven. Naturally, improv is a hit-and-miss venture by nature, but the sketch writers seem to have lost their edge.

FRAUD: Don’t be cross, uncle!

SPOOGE: What else can I be when I live in a world of humorlessness such as this? And these are the comedians that end up on shows such as Saturday Night Live, where comedy is nothing but a clever idea followed by the beating of a dead horse! Sketch comedy! Humbug!

FRAUD: Uncle! How can you talk that way about such talented people?

SPOOGE: Nephew! Did I say they were untalented? The lineup in Twisted Dickens would astound you. They all have a gift for creating strange and wonderful characters, they are profoundly adept at mimicry, and they are all so watchable. Most have toured, written, and/or appeared with Second City: Frank Caeti, Amanda Blake Davis, Brian Stepanek, Jean Villepique, Steve Brewster, and even the voice of Homer Simpson, Dan Castellaneta. But even they could not keep the astoundingly unwitty drivel from giving me a headache. This thing was as repetitive and silly as Elephant Room, which took advantage of patrons’ burgeoning interest in magic shows by stretching a 15-minute skit into a dreadfully dull affair. No, nephew, review Christmas theater in your own way, and let me review it in mine!

FRAUD: But you don’t review it! You write plays as reviews instead.

SPOOGE: Leave it alone. What upsets me more is that the idea for Twist Your Dickens is phenomenal, but it ends up being a poor excuse for perplexing and annoying attempts at hilarity. There was one actor pretending to be a spectator in the audience; he interrupts Mr. West as Scrooge and offers a fairly accurate synopsis with, “Oh, I get it! It’s sketch comedy inspired by a terrible version of A Christmas Carol.” Unfortunately, the writing team of Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort (both from T.V.’s Colbert Report) have created a strand of Christmas tree lights, but most of the bulbs burned out before they even hit the stage.

FRAUD: What a frightful thing to say.

SPOOGE: Poking fun at a chestnut such as A Christmas Carol could have worked, I suppose, had they kept the comedy character-driven, but the insertion of flat sketches and the use of crassness and vulgarity only cheapened the proceedings. It became nothing more than terrible sketch comedy inspired by a terrible version of a book which is ripe for skewering. And it’s the job of director Marc Warzecha to keep those odious sketches from ending up in the show.

FRAUD: Surely, there were some funny lines and humorous moments. How could there not be with Second City?

SPOOGE: Indeed, but the most satisfying laughs were created by riffing on hand-written notes supplied by the audience. The entire outing was a poor excuse for picking a man’s nose every twenty-fifth of December.

(Long beat.)

FRAUD: I have no idea what that means. But, Uncle, I have always thought of Christmas time as a time for forgiving. A charitable, pleasant time when we should open our shut-up hearts to mediocre theater, and therefore, Uncle, though looking on the bright side in my reviews has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done theater good, and therefore will do me good; and I say, “God bless it!”

(SNATCHIT starts clapping.)

SPOOGE: (To SNATCHIT.) Let me hear another sound from you and you’ll keep your Christmas by losing your employment!

SNATCHIT: But you don’t pay me. (Nobody laughs.)

SPOOGE: (To FRAUD.) You’re quite a powerful speaker, sir. I wonder you don’t go into acting!

FRAUD: Don’t be angry, Uncle. Come! See this show with us tomorrow.

SPOOGE: Humbug! Sit through more Christmas theater? I’d rather sit through The Exorcist with Brooke Shields again.

FRAUD: It would be a great joy to me and my wife.

SPOOGE: Your wife—yes, I heard she laughs at anything. Why do you keep going to these trite outings?

FRAUD: Because I fell in love with theater!

SPOOGE: Because you fell in love! That is the only thing more ridiculous than Christmas theater. I’d rather eat an indigestible bit of beef than sit through another repugnant and objectionable entertainment.

FRAUD: Objectionable? Must you be so harsh?

SPOOGE: (Approaches FRAUD with a crooked finger and low voice.) Every evening at Twist Your Dickens, there will be a “surprise guest” who is pushed on stage in an easy chair to introduce a sketch. Our visitor was Tom Everett Scott; not only was he also not droll, but he actually pitched his new film and its release date!

(FRAUD gasps, but contains himself.)

It mystifies me, Nephew, why people keep attending this type of refuse. Perhaps, like me, they are desperate for some belly laughs in tough times. The true wonder is how these smart, talented, and funny writers can create such refuse. Maybe they should stick to television. Enough! Good Afternoon!

FRAUD: Many would rather die than give up creating theater.

SPOOGE: If they would rather die, they had better do it and decrease the surplus mediocrity.

FRAUD: But, sir! Certainly you don’t mean that, sir.

SPOOGE: With all my heart. If I could work my will, Nephew, every idiot Artistic Director who goes about with a Christmas show in his season should be boiled with his own board of directors and buried with a stake of bad scripts through his heart!

END SCENE ONE.

In scene two, SPOOGE is visited by the GHOST OF THEATRE PRESENT, whom he mysteriously murders. In scene three, SPOOGE meets the GHOST OF THEATRE PAST and the GHOST OF THEATER FUTURE, after which he decides to only see the good in mediocrity. Scene four is a dream sequence in which our critic is immortalized in a new show, entitled Spooged by Second City.

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Colin Mitchell About the Author: COLIN MITCHELL: Actor/Writer/Director/Producer/Father, award-winning playwright and screenwriter, Broadway veteran, Marvel comics scribe, Van Morrison disciple, Zen-Catholic, a proud U.S. Army Brat conceived in Scotland and born in Frankfurt, Germany, currently living in Los Angeles and doing his best to piss off as many people as possible.

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  1. Kevin Delin Kevin Delin says:

    “…the use of crassness and vulgarity only cheapened the proceedings…”

    and then 4 lines down:

    “…The entire outing was a poor excuse for picking a man’s nose every twenty-fifth of December.”