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Nicholas Kessler as Rock and Roll Santa.

Image: Kate Szrom

After three years of sold-out runs at The Armory, The Second City’s A Christmas Carol: Twist Your Dickens is back this December with new scenes that promise to be funnier than ever. This parody of the Charles Dickens holiday classic – an adult-comedy full of wild sketches and hilarious improv – has become a Portland holiday tradition.

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L-R: Nicholas Kessler as the Ghost of Christmas Future and Craig Cackowski as Scrooge with Dalek the cyborg robot.

Not sure you’re a fan of improv? Unknown to some, many famous movie lines were created through actors’ use of improv. “Here’s looking at you, kid” was notoriously improvised by Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca and “here’s Johnny” was improvised by Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Improv symbolizes spontaneity, emotion and wit, and has influenced all sectors of the entertainment industry.

Referenced as far back as the 16th century, improv has had a long history in theater, but the popularity of improv for everyday consumers didn’t really take off until a small theater opened in Chicago on a snowy day in 1959. That theater was The Second City, who used a self-mocking name that came from a 1952 article in The New Yorker, which labeled Chicago as the “second city” to New York.

Comedians such as Tina Fey, Bill Murray, Chris Farley, Joan Rivers, Mike Myers and Stephen Colbert all developed their comedic chops at The Second City. Even the very first stars of Saturday Night Live, including John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner, honed their skills at The Second City.

Traditionally, a show by The Second City features 6-7 actors, a few chairs and a few props/costume accessories. Twist Your Dickens is the company’s first show to use big production values. The set features roughly 1,000 hand-painted bricks created by Portland-based scenic artists using eco-friendly sheets of molded Pulp Art to achieve the realistic appearance of a brick wall. There are more than 80 costume changes in the show, 31 wigs and seven facial hair pieces. On average, every two minutes an actor changes their costume.

Portland Center Stage at The Armory was the very first company to secure the rights to produce Twist Your Dickens after its world premiere in Los Angeles in 2012. The Portland production features a dynamite cast, including Craig Cackowski (an alumnus of The Second City and a regular on Drunk History) and local-favorite Lauren Modica (who is back in Portland after a season at Oregon Shakespeare Festival). Read on to get their scoop on this hilarious holiday hit.

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Lauren Modica plays Mrs. Cratchit in Twist Your Dickens, along with familiar characters like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz and Lucy from the Charlie Brown Peanuts gang.

In Twist Your Dickens, the audience is asked to submit misdeeds that might get used in the show. What is the best audience misdeed you can recall?

Lauren: SO MANY GOOD ONES. I remember gasping at one last year, where someone confessed to working at a kids camp and sneaking off to the bathrooms for 'Adult Nap Time,' basically, with a fellow counselor during a break, and then someone I know very well confessed they'd written it. No names, but I know. And so does Santa.

What is your favorite moment in Twist Your Dickens and why?

Lauren: I look forward to listening to Belle and Scrooge's banter every single night. And personally, Insane Beggar Woman. Getting to play her is a dream.

What toy would “Insane Beggar Woman” recommend this holiday season?

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The Second City alumnus Craig Cackowski plays Scrooge in Twist Your Dickens

What is your favorite character in the show?

Craig: Ooh, tough call, but Jaime Moyer as profane lounge singer Ruby Santini is a special treat.

Anything you’d like to share with people thinking about coming to the show?

Craig: This show is right up Portland’s alley! It’s irreverent but oddly traditional, weird and sometimes profane but with a heart of gold, just like a good Portlander.

Does Scrooge have any tips for us this holiday season?

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L-R: Craig Cackowski as Scrooge, Chantal DeGroat as a nun and Nicholas Kessler as Bob Cratchit.

Ticket and Performance Information

Twist Your Dickens

By Peter Gwinn & Bobby Mort 

Directed by Ron West

When:                     December 5 – December 31, 2017

Where:                   On the U.S. Bank Main Stage at The Armory.

    128 NW Eleventh Ave., Portland, Ore., 97209 

More Info:            www.pcs.org/dickens-2017

To Purchase:       Tickets start at $25 for all performances.

Online:                   www.pcs.org

By Phone:              503.445.3700, 12–6 p.m.

In Person:             The Armory box office is at 128 NW Eleventh Avenue

                                    12 p.m. to 8 p.m. on performance days

                                    12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on non-performance days

Groups:                  Discounts available for groups of 10+ by calling 503.445.3794.

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