Second City serves up the fun with a trippy mashup of holiday classics in Twist Your Dickens

Ever wonder where the misfit toys went after Santa took them off the island? How about that original ending to A Charlie Brown Christmas that the network execs didn’t want you to see? And how Oliver Twist became an activist?

Wonder no more, my friends. For this holiday season, Second City presents Twist Your Dickens. Written by former The Colbert Report writers Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort, and directed by Chris Earle, with music direction by Ayaka Kinugawa, it’s running right now at the Greenwin Theatre at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

If you’re looking for a straightforward comedic retelling of A Christmas Carol, you ain’t getting it here. Starring Seán Cullen and Patrick McKenna, and featuring award-winning Second City alumni Jason DeRosse, Nigel Downer, Sarah Hillier, Karen Parker and Allison Price, Twist Your Dickens plays with sketch comedy and improv as it weaves other classic holiday favourites with Dickens’ famous Christmas tale, twisting and turning the storytelling—and the fun—in wacky, unexpected ways. Think secret Santa at the Fezziwigs’ office Christmas party; Tiny Tim’s sleepover; Oliver Twist’s orphan protest.

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Karen Parker, Sarah Hillier & Patrick McKenna in Twist Your Dickens – all photos by Paul Aihoshi

Leading this wacky band of performers, Cullen gives us a deliciously nasty and darkly funny Scrooge; callous and money grubbing, with hints of the Grinch, he has a game, child-like quality—which comes in handy on his journey with the ghosts. McKenna does a fabulous job, juggling several supporting characters, including the woebegone Jacob Marley; the chains he forged in a miserable life linked with confessions shared by audience members, inspiring a round of hilariously bizarre improv. McKenna also does a hysterically hyper-cheerful (or is he?) Fred, Scrooge’s nephew; he does a mean Jimmy Stewart George Bailey too.

Rounding out the ensemble is a fine group of sketch comedy/improv performers. DeRosse is Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s put-upon but faithful clerk (or is he?); he gives a stand-out performance as Linus in the alternate ending for A Charlie Brown Christmas, as the gang reacts to his speech at the school Christmas pageant. Karen Parker plays Mrs. Cratchit, Bob’s supportive wife who can barely stand to tolerate Scrooge—and has some interesting suggestions on that score. And she shines with the song stylings of Ruby Santini, delivering her own personal, hilariously inappropriate take on classic Christmas songs during a recording session (featuring McKenna as her baffled, stressed out producer). Hillier plays Tiny Tim, with a decided twist; this kid may be schlepping along with an ill-fitting crutch, but he’s no wilting wallflower.

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Seán Cullen & Sarah Hillier in Twist Your Dickens

Downer calls out the show’s obvious and not so obvious anachronisms as the Heckler; and does an awesome job as the rad, energetic Ghost of Christmas Past. And Price is hilarious as the drunken party girl Ghost of Christmas Present and the prankster Ghost of Christmas Future.

With shouts to the design team Jackie Chau (set), Melanie McNeill (costume) and Christina Cicko (lighting), and stage manager Andrew Dollar.

Second City serves up the fun with a trippy mashup of holiday classics in Twist Your Dickens.

Twist Your Dickens continues in the Greenwin Theatre at the Toronto Centre for the Arts until December 30. Get your advance tix online; for group discounts (8 plus), call THE Group Tix Company 647-438-5559, outside GTA 1-866-447-7849 or visit the group box office online.

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Toronto Fringe: Complex dynamic of love, hate, friendship, art & success in Pool (No Water)

pool_no_water_-web-250x250Cue 6 Productions has been getting some well-deserved buzz for its Toronto Fringe production of Mark Ravenhill’s Pool (No Water), directed by Jill Harper – running at the Tarragon Theatre mainspace.

A group of young bohemian artists is torn apart by illness and distance – physical and emotional – and previously unspoken, private feelings of envy, rage and betrayal come to the forefront in the words and actions of the group. Sarah has made it big on the west coast and reconnects with the group for the funeral of one of their fallen comrades. She offers an invitation to fly out for a visit and to lounge around her pool, which the gang accepts. A freak accident during their visit sets off a chain of events that challenges their concept of art and morality – with life-changing consequences for all.

An excellent ensemble in this intense and darkly funny tale of art, friendship and success. Each cast member adds a specific flavour to this group of artist friends: Chy Ryan Spain is splash and energy, with claws; Sarah Illitovitch-Goldman is cerebral, dark and sardonic; Daniel Roberts is an anxious and uncertain, but gleeful participant; and Allison Price (also featured in People Suck) brings edgy comedy and comic rage. And the fifth unseen character Sarah, who we only really know through second-hand accounts from the group, is entitled, successful and selectively generous. The group vacillates between love and hate for her – a hive mind thinking and acting as one, so much so that each can’t tell who was the instigator.

Featuring some beautiful, emotive and ethereal group movement choreography by Patricia Allison.

It’s a complex dynamic of love, hate, friendship, and art and success in Cue 6 Productions’ remarkable Pool (No Water).

Pool (No Water) continues at the Tarragon mainspace until July 11; you have a few more chances to catch it – see the full schedule here. Book ahead for this one or take your chances on a sold out house.

Love, desire & betrayal in Pieces

Cue 6 Productions’ Pieces, by Sarah Illiatovitch-Goldman and directed by Jill Harper, opened this past week at Unit 102 Theatre and I had the pleasure of seeing the early evening performance last night.

“Jim and Susan are married” appears under the play’s title in the program and it is this relationship that is at the core of the play. A fifty-something couple, they’ve done a very neat job of living their separate lives together: Jim (James Downing) is a photography professor who travels a lot for work and Susan (Rosemary Dunsmore), also a professor and a self-described “single parent,” manages their home and raises their daughter. All very neat until Jodi (Allison Price) appears at their door. Jim has also been living another separate life.

Jenny So’s set (with Scott Penner as consultant) portrays these separate lives nicely. At first glance, it appears to be a bachelor apartment, with a dining area stage right and a bedroom stage left. But it soon becomes apparent that these are the two worlds of the play – even within the same household – the bedroom being both a part of Jim and Susan’s home, and Jodi’s in other scenes. The worlds of domestic and desire.

And that’s pretty much all I can tell you without including some major spoiler points. What I can tell you is that Pieces is a sexy dynamo of emotion, desire and betrayal – leaving the audience hoping against hope, taking sides and making moral judgments. Right along with the characters.

As an audience member, you won’t be able to sit on the fence about these characters – and that’s due in a large part to an outstanding cast. Rosemary Dunsmore is lovely as the supportive, strong and practical – and also passionate – Susan, the grown-up in her marriage to James Downing’s Jim, a charming and seductive artist/academic with desire to burn. And then there’s Allison Price’s Jodi – a sexy, smart student to Jim’s professor – in many ways a young Susan – captivated and so in love with Jim. Jim and Susan are married. And the revelations that emerge as a result of Jodi’s appearance are heartbreakingly earth-shattering – and put each to the test.

What makes the performance of Pieces particularly impressive is that the five middle scenes that take place in the present never appear in the same order. I had a great chat with producer Allie Lalonde (who’s also the thesp GM – more on thesp later in this post) and Christine Groom (thesp Director of Development) – both before and after the performance – about this unique aspect of the production. Before each show, there is a draw that decides the running order of those scenes – first, final and flashback scenes stay put. This means the actors and stage manager (Melissa  Cameron) must adjust each performance, constantly keeping them on their toes and in the present. And, last night, they did two shows. I know! For the audience, this means impressions will shift as well – and folks can come back and see the show again at a reduced price. For a more detailed description of this aspect of the production, take a look at NOW Magazine’s interview with playwright Illiatovitch-Goldman: http://www.nowtoronto.com/stage/story.cfm?content=186864

Cue 6 Productions is a member of thesp, an organization that provides assistance and resources to indie theatre companies, and info for audiences on theatrical happenings in Toronto. For more info, check here: http://thesp.ca/

Pieces runs until June 9 at Unit 102 Theatre – 376 Dufferin Street, Toronto (west side, just south of Queen St. West). For info and reservations, drop by the Cue 6 site: http://cue6.ca/