The Red Line Runs Through It

At The Second City e.t.c.

By Dan Zeff

Chicago – The new Second City e.t.c. revue is called “A Red Line Runs Through It.” The subtitle could be “With Malice Toward All.” For those Second City watchers who have grumbled that the cabaret theater has lost some of its satirical teeth in recent years, your comedy ship has come in. The new show may smile and smile, but it takes no prisoners. 

The show’s title is a riff on the CTA Red Line, an often rider-unfriendly train that runs between Howard Street and 95th street. English majors in the audience may recognize the title comes from the short novel  “A River Runs Through It” by Norman Maclean.

      The revue features much more political content than we’ve seen in the past several revues. Typically, a Second City presentation leans markedly toward the liberal side of the aisle, the heaviest barbs aimed at political conservatives and whatever smacks of right wing attitudes in American life. We will expect shots taken at Donald Trump, but the Democrats are not spared by e.t.c. Hillary, Barak, and Bernie draw stiletto-sharp lampoons, with Rahm Emanuel attracting particularly heavy fire.

          

                            Photo Credit: Todd Rosenberg

         Indeed the Chicago mayor dominates much of the show. His disarming portrait illuminates at the side of the stage while the ensemble shreds him for failures to deal with his city’s major problems, whether they be racial or educational. It’s pretty unforgiving stuff and sets the tone for the anger that filters through the evening’s discourses on the state of the union. There is even a funny skit recounting the sordid personal life of architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

     A particularly clever bit mocks political action committees (PAC) just by reciting the names of various organizations, most of them fictional but still revealing, as in “The People of Arkansas Against the Pronunciation of Kansas,” “The People of Delaware Against Being Interesting “ and “The People of Indiana Against Education.”

     The racial card is played with considerable vehemence. Two of the six members of the cast—Lisa Beasley and Aasia LaShay Bullock--are young African American women whose characters do not hold back on their views of the racial scene as seen from the black female perspective. Bullock in particular has a sassy streetwise attitude that is funny and trenchant at the same time. Bullock also scores big with a monologue in which a new mother narrates the inconveniences she endures while tending to the nonstop needs of a freshly born infant.
         Diversity is a hallmark of the show. In addition to the black Bullock and Beasley, there is a Korean (Peter Kim). He is only one of two males in the ensemble, a departure from the Second City tradition of ensembles that are evenly split gender-wise. There are two white actresses—Katie Klein and Julie Marchiano—and one white male, Scott Morehead. Beasley and Morehead are the only two holdovers from the previous e.t.c. revue but the entire cast melds together beautifully. In one scene, they join to send up smarmy evening television newscasts oozing with phony importance. The cast even words a prominent mention of Aldi’s discount supermarket in another skit.

               

                                       Photo Credit: Todd Rosenberg

       At my performance, there wasn’t much improvisation but what the cast offered certainly was choice. The cast solicited suggestions from the audience on what irritates them most in their daily lives. Someone came up with having to make a good cup of coffee. From that innocuous idea the entire ensemble built a mini musical filled with sharp wit and great wordplay. The bit was so smooth and effective that it was hard to accept that the scene really was an improvisation and not scripted beforehand.

         Morehead had some golden moments, one as a guy playing trivial pursuit in a bar who breaks down in operatic emotion as he screams out each answer, the trivia question having touched some deep wellspring in his personal life. Morehead also scored large in a dual skit with Kim in which he plays a straight guy who dresses in drag to accommodate his gay friend on his birthday.

     “A Red Line Runs Through It” has a very high decibel count. The sound effects by Jesse Case (who is also the musical director) blare in the background accompanying the music. The lighting design is also prominent throughout, giving this revue a heavy load of production values. The days of a simple bare stage and a few wooden chairs and half doors at stage rear belong to Second City’s classical days. The revue is still word-driven but technology plays a far more prominent role. As does the use of profanity. Many of the obscenities are appropriate to the material and pretty funny, but the language could be dialed down a bit with no loss of comic impact.

         Matt Hovde directs, which means the show moves with pace with energy.  Hovde is favored with an exceptionally versatile ensemble, each member carving out a distinct performing personality. They could all succeed in straight plays or musicals, especially Morehead with his good looks and acting range. But the pixie-ish Marchiano has a comic presence that would neatly fit into a role as the leading lady’s wisecracking best friend.

         Second City patrons not only have a particularly incisive revue and a sextet of young razor sharp performers to entertain them, Customers now can enjoy a new bistro that just opened next door to the e.t.c. theater. It’s called “1599” and it offers appetizers and light entrees as well as a consider beer and wine and mixed drink menu. The bistro wants to attract the before-and-after-theater crowd and it has the ambience to succeed. There were a number of groups of young women having drinks and nibbles when I was there. It seems like an ideal place for ladies to gather in a hassle-free environment for an after work or pre theater drink. It’s the kind of facility that has made play going in London such a civilized amenity. The atmosphere is casual and the staff is friendly and efficient. The brisket sliders are especially recommended.

              The show gets a rating of 3½  stars.

         ”The Red Line Runs Through It” is playing an open run at Second City e.t.c., 230 West North Avenue. Performances are Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 and 11 p.m., and Sunday at 7 p.m. Tickets begin at $23. Call 312 664 4032 or visit www.SecondCity.com.

Contact Dan at: ZeffDaniel@yahoo.com. May 2016

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