Theatergoers who prefer "A Christmas Carol" straight up, with language and redemptive message intact, won't find much holiday cheer in "A Christmas Twist," SeaGlass Theatre's satiric treatment of the Dickens classic at the Victory Theatre Center in Burbank.
Regrettably, even those who relish their Scrooge, Cratchits and ghostly Spirits played for laughs won't find this mash-up of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" and "Oliver Twist" nearly as jolly as it could have been.
Taking a sketchy and broad-stroke approach to both classics, writers Doug Armstrong, Keith Cooper and Maureen Morley have turned Oliver Twist into hapless workhouse orphan Tiny Twist, who is adopted by Bob Cratchit after trying to pick his pocket. Mr. Bumble, the pompous workhouse owner stunned by Oliver's request for more gruel, is both thieving Fagin's co-conspirator and Scrooge's nephew, with a vested interest in keeping Tiny Twist's origins a mystery.
It's a clever idea, but one that is never fully realized in the execution, undermined by little sense of time and place, heavy-handed silliness and clunky one-liners: Bob Cratchit to Scrooge: "My fire has gone out." Scrooge: "Oh, you mean it's not exciting for you anymore?" Charity-collecting carolers to Scrooge: "What can I put you down for?" Scrooge: "My bad attitude?" The Ghost of Marley to Scrooge: "Ask me who I was." Scrooge: "Who was you?" The Ghost of Christmas Present, played as a reeling drunk: "Open up, Scrooge, I need to use your chamber pot."
The cleverest bit of the night may have been the obligatory pre-show warning to turn off all noise-making electronic devices, lest offending audience members meet the ghosts of "Courtesy Past," "Irritation Present" and "Embarrassment Yet to Come."
Falcon Theatre's resident Troubadour Theatre Company, a master of literary and pop-culture mash-ups, can drop a few groaners during its riotous shows, too. One difference is that the Troubadours' reactions to lukewarm audience responses are built into the company's productions and are generally well timed enough to advance the comedy and stoke energy.
Here, a capable cast, under Paul Stroili's direction, gives moments of genuine humor equal weight with the clunkers and dilutes real humor by stretching a joke too thin, as when a pair of carolers start singing "Good King Wenceslas," realize that they don't know all the words and fill in the blanks with self-conscious hums. The scene sparks a surge of knowing laughter, then squanders the laugh by going on too long.
Yet there are moments that indicate what might have been. Where Stroili's staging of the play lacks nimbleness, his performance as unscrupulous Bumble, a self-satisfied villain in cocked hat and greatcoat, is a show highlight, as is Chris Wynne's triple renditions of Fagin, Mr. "Fuzzywig" and a faceless, towering Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, the last two given visual kick by costume designer Travis Thi.
(Thi, who disappoints with a Glinda the Good Witch look for the Ghost of Christmas Past [Kimberly Van Luin] and a ho-hum dress with red bows for the Ghost of Christmas Present [Alison Blanchard], scores additionally with his costume for David G. Peryam's ghost of Marley: links of chain festooned with car deodorizers and fuzzy dice.)
David Reynolds' very large Tiny Twist — jokes about his size are one of the play's overused and forced staples — toting a crutch and wearing blond wig and traditional Tiny Tim garb, is a talented comic actor who livens up the stage and like Stroili as Bumble, Peryam as Marley and Wynne in his multiple roles, contributes needed depth by his presence.
Finally, this Scrooge isn't the lonely, neglected boy left at school during the holidays. He's the bully who picked on the outcast. The "aha" moment for Scrooge in observing "Fuzzywig's" past kindnesses: Happy employees will work for less. Although the production is neither dark enough nor zany enough to compensate for its absence, there is no hint of redemption in this determinedly irreverent "Twist" on a classic.
LYNNE HEFFLEY writes about stage and culture for Marquee.
What: "A Christmas Twist"
Where: Victory Theatre Center, Big Victory, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday. Ends Dec. 16. For adult audiences.
More info: (818) 533-8441, www.seaglasstheatre.org