A Christmas Twist | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

A Christmas Twist 

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Illegitimate Players, at the Bailiwick Arts Center.

What The Naked Gun did for--or rather to--detective films, this seasonal send-up does for the family classics of Charles Dickens: it stretches the contrivances permeating his work to ridiculous lengths. In Doug Armstrong, Keith Cooper, and Maureen Morley's script, skinflint Scrooge turns out to be the uncle of Oliver Twist's workhouse operator Mr. Bumble, and rebellious orphan Tiny Twist--a gangly 20-year-old wielding an absurdly undersize crutch--is packed off by Bumble to join Fagin's gang of pickpockets, but runs away and ends up being adopted by Bob Cratchit.

It's a story Dickens himself could have concocted--and a hook for the Illegitimates' collection of caricatures, scattershot jokes, and sometimes hilarious sight gags. The Ghost of Christmas Present, airborne just like the one in Goodman Theatre's Christmas Carol, flies smack into the set. And Twist, who knew hunger in Bumble's workhouse, discovers sheer horror as the insufferably cheerful Cratchits force him to play an endless series of stupid parlor games.

An unpretentious party show under Judy O'Malley's direction, this revival of a 1991 production doesn't always work--the rapid-fire pace can't disguise the script's flimsier passages. But it's funny more often than not, thanks largely to Paul Stroili's Twist, Kevin Theis's Bumble, Doug Armstrong and Maureen FitzPatrick as the Cratchits, and Gavin Witt's Fagin. The only weak link is coauthor Cooper's mumbling bumbler of a Scrooge; his lines and body language aren't crisp enough to make him the anchor he should be, even in a spoof.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/William Armstrong.

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