No wonder the Ghost of Christmas Past is toting a skateboard: Ebenezer Scrooge enjoys an unusual amount of freewheeling travel in the Second City’s “Twist Your Dickens,” now at the Kennedy Center’s Theater Lab. A hilariously impudent spoof of the holiday season in general, and “A Christmas Carol” in particular, the show journeys not only through Scrooge’s past and future, but also to the heyday of barbershop quartets, a nickel-and-diming gift-planning session by the Bethlehem-bound Three Kings, and the cutting-room floor where (we learn) an uncharacteristically pugnacious segment of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” met its off-the-record end.
Written by Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort (former writers for “The Colbert Report”) and directed by Marc Warzecha, “Twist Your Dickens” incorporates a bit of audience participation, which in turn influences the kaleidoscope of settings. In a very funny sequence that conjures up one of Scrooge’s childhood Christmases, for example, theatergoers get to shout out their time-frame choices, prompting the actors to replay the scene as if set in those eras. On opening night, the skit’s hung-over father character went from complaining about overindulgence in Two Buck Chuck (the 2010s) to grousing about Old Fashioneds (the 1960s) and homemade moonshine (the 1920s).
The gifted and quick-witted actors channeling this mix of sketch and improv include Second City alumni Jaime Moyer, who, among other roles, portrays a groggy Ghost of Christmas Present, and Frank Caeti, who plays the skateboarding, 1980s-obsessed Ghost of Christmas Past. Rounding out the cast are veterans of local stages, including John Lescault as a gleefully tightfisted Scrooge (“Back to my usury!”). After interventions by Marley’s Ghost (Jamie Smithson) and the other phantoms, not to mention a spectrally enabled visit to the home of the clerk Bob Cratchit (Aaron Bliden), Scrooge reforms. He even considers sending an Edible Arrangement to Mrs. Cratchit (Anne Bowles) — but not before Tiny Tim (Tia Shearer) has begun putting together an assassination scheme.
Thanks to the cast’s adept role-juggling, other figures regularly burst onto the stage, whose 19th-century-counting-house backdrop is crowned with a caricature of Dickens. A snow-covered George Bailey, from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” makes an appearance. (Scrooge curtly tells him to jump off Memorial Bridge.) Santa tries to sell a pair of U Street hipsters on some playthings from the Island of Misfit Toys. And a rally by activists from an orphans union attracts Oliver Twist, Little Orphan Annie, Dorothy Gale and Batman. (Ivania Stack and Patti Kalil, respectively, designed the exuberant costumes and props.)
The spirit of Charles Dickens, who also shows up, claims to play regular poker matches with Jane Austen in the afterlife. That pastime could hardly be more fun than this one.
The Second City’s Twist Your Dickens, written by Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort. Directed by Marc Warzecha; scenic design, Tom Buderwitz; lighting, Alberto Segarra. About 100 minutes. Tickets: $49-$79. Through Dec. 31 at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org.