At The Second City e.t.c.
by Dan Zeff
Chicago – Second City e.t.c. calls its new revue “Fantastic Super Great Nation Numero Uno,” which sets up the audience to revel in satirical jabs at Donald Trump and his bombastic rhetoric. The show injects a few japs at Trump, but no more pot shots than any topical Second City revue would fire off during the course of the evening. What the production does provide is a buffet of odd comic bits and pieces served up by seven performers who work uncommonly well together, although nearly all of them are making their debuts on a Second City stage.
The new show doesn’t have an overall theme and there are no running gags, other than an opening/closing musical number that celebrates our sense of humor in times of trial. Fortunately, that’s about all the touchy feely material the ensemble provides. Most everything else is edgy and frequently weird, with extra credit points for originality even when the humor or the point of a skit doesn’t quite radiate through.
The cast consists of returnees Katie Klein and Julie Marchiano and freshmen Sayjal Joshi, Andrew Knox, Alan Linic, Jasbir Vazquez, and Tien Tran. There are no outstanding comic personalities among the group, at least not yet, but they have a superb rapport with each other.
The show is a little slow in getting its comic feet under it, or maybe I was have a problem adjusting to the erratic flow of material. Either the material got better as the production progressed or I caught on to the offbeat slant of the material and the performances, but by the second act I was having a wonderful time.
Most of the best bits are funny for funny’s sake, not choosing to make a social or political point beyond engaging the audience’s funny bone. But some of the material does have muscle, like sketches mocking prejudice against gays and racial stereotyping. But this is not an angry show. The cast, properly I think, likely feels there is so much anger and resentment and despair in the national air and so many obvious Trump jokes that maybe we need to step back a little and just have some laughs without pointing fingers.
Photo Credit: Todd Rosenberg
There are the usual improvisation moments, one soliciting ideas in writing from the audience before the show starts. But the trickiest and on press night the most successful was an improv in which a bilingual spectator was pulled out of the audience to serve as interpreter for a Hispanic mall worker (Vazquez, who I loved throughout the evening) for a pair of immigration department investigators (Knox and Linic) checking the worker out as a possible illegal. The two officers asked a question that was translated by the audience member to Vazquez who replied in Spanish that in turn was translated to the government snoops. This places an enormous burden on the selected audience member, who could freeze on stage or mug, but this time he instead fitted so well into the comic potential of the skit that one was tempted to think he was a plant. I hope every audience is treated to a volunteer as savvy and hip as the press night chap.
Then there is a three hander involving Vazquez and Joshi trying to deal with Joshi’s ex husband (Knox), come to their apartment to get some chairs. The problem is that the ex husband is trying to navigate on two booted broken legs. It seems that his ex wife took the car so the Knox character was transporting himself on a skateboard, leading to the broken legs. Much of the skit is prime physical comedy showing Knox in huge pain trying to take possession of the chairs, one at a time. It’s terrific piece of broad humor by Knox, ending first on a whimsical note followed by a great final comic moment.
There is a delightful tweaking of sex education in grade school with Marchiano holding up the female end against the three males awash in macho bravado and misinformation about the human body and its reproductive functions. And Vazquez and Tien appear as a dating couple speaking entirely in gibberish and getting the comedy across through vocal inflection and body language.
One nifty satirical bit features Linic as a Cubs fan who awakens from a 72-day drunk following the World Series triumph and finds himself in a world changed not by the success of his baseball heroes but by the unlikely victory of Trump in the election. An all-female skit is a nice lampoon of daytime female chat shows like “The Voice,” and a musical number about Russian hacking hits one bull’s-eye after another.
Photo Credit - Todd Rosenberg
Director Ryan Bernier distinguishes himself with his deft control of material that switches emotional and comic gears from one skit or blackout to the next. There are very few props, the ensemble doing all the heavy comic lifting with their movements and vocal deliveries (Knox is a master at the amazed facial expression and double take). Jacob Shuda is the proficient musical accompanist and composer.
The success of “Fantastic Super…” comes as a relief after the troubled presentation of “The Winner…of Our Discontent” on the Mainstage a few weeks ago. e.t.c. has found itself a gold mine of compatible young performers able to smoothly manage a wide assortment of skits and bits. The e.t.c humor isn’t forced and there isn’t the Mainstage’s frequent emphasis on four letter words to prod the audience to laughter. Not that “Fantastic Super…” is wholesome fun. Heaven forbid. But it comes by its laughs honorably and the ensemble oozes a ton of talent in the bud.
revue gets a rating of 3½ stars.
”Fantastic Super Great Nation Numero Uno” 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 $19. Call 312 664 4032 or visit www.SecondCity.com.
Contact Dan at: ZeffDaniel@yahoo.com.
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