Improv darlings The Second City have pulled together an eclectic cast of well-known performers to create a wild, hysterical tale that promises famous special guests turning up at various shows to perform the great Charles Dickens tale that would probably have the Victorian author turning in his grave.
Patch caught up with director Mark Warzecha and one of the performers – Frank Caeti of MadTV fame – ahead of the Center Theatre Group’s show that opened at Culver City’s Kirk Douglas Theatre on Nov. 24 and runs through Dec. 30.
Culver City Patch: Hello Frank. What roles do you play in this production?
Frank Caeti: The program credits me as the Ghost of Christmas Past, as well as a few others.
Patch: You are well known for your comedic skits on Mad TV, particularly when it comes to your impersonations. How do you use those skills on a stage?
Caeti: The stage gives me so much more time in terms of being able to create and improvise through rehearsal. I feel as though there is a depth that you can explore in theater that due to timing restrictions just isn't there [in television].
Patch: What made you decide to join Second City?
Caeti: I am originally from the Chicago area, which exposed me to the company. Second City had an extensive history and famous alumni, and when I saw Pinata Full of Bees back in '95 I was on board hook, line and sinker at that point, to my parents’ dismay!
Patch: Who were some of your earliest influences?
Caeti: I loved Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, Gene Wilder, and Richard Pryor. In fact, one of my favorite movies of all time is Stir Crazy, starring both Wilder and Pryor. I have a great deal of respect for Steve Carell and his talents. I am drawn to people who are just phenomenal actors such as Catherine Anne O'Hara who is a great Second City alum. She is at the top of my list in terms of a person who can dive into character and then still be real and vulnerable and lovely.
Patch: What are your goals?
Caeti: In a business where everyone seems to tell you what you can and can’t do, I choose to aim high. Therefore I would like to win an Academy Award, have my own my own production and theater company, employ all of my friends (who are more talented and funnier than I), and proceed to do what it is that we love most - which is to perform - and at the same time keep our audiences’ happy.
Patch: Mark, what were the challenges of this production of A Christmas Carol as opposed to previous Second City productions?
Mark Warzecha: Well I think one of the most challenging aspects of being both a director and actor in a Second City cast is that our creative process is unique. In this production of A Christmas Carol, we have two writers who wrote this script. In that respect it’s a traditional process. But most of the time if you come to see a Second City resident company show in our home theaters in either Chicago or Toronto the show is written by the actors, led by the director using improvisation as a tool. Doing this show with a more traditional process has been a blast for all of us so far. To get to work for Second City but to also experience a more traditional theatrical process at the same time has been great.
Patch: Do you plan on pursuing the world of acting with the same passion that you have for directing?
Warzecha: I love acting and I still do perform and improvise every now and then, but I primarily pursue writing, directing and producing because I enjoy having the opportunity to work on the larger aspect of a production.
Patch: What theater or television programs made an early impact on you?
Warzecha: The ensemble cast of Saturday Night Live back in the 80’s had an enormous influence on me. Discovering George Carlin not long after that did as well. He really opened my eyes in that he taught me that you could be funny and also smart and satiric and say something. The presidential debates on S.N.L also made heavy impressions on me. I was always and remain inspired by satire and I think that element is what drew me to Second City initially. Satire is an important part of the Second City mission statement, both social and political.
Patch: You have been a key part in many Second City productions. Which tops the list?
Warzecha: I honestly have to say that this current cast is at the top of that list. The entire scope of the production has been an absolute blast so far. The production team is awesome, the script is great and the cast is incredible. And I have to tell you that Center Theater Group is a fantastic organization.
The Second City’s Christmas Carol: A Twist in the Dickens runs at the Kirk Douglas Theatre through Dec. 30. Click here for tickets and information.