FRESH NEW REVUE AT SECOND CITY
Four of the six performers in the new Second City e.t.c. revue We’re All in This Room Together never appeared on a Second City mainstage before. And this is only the second show for the other two players. But youth and inexperience were not a factor on the opening night. The three males and three females were sharp, funny, and versatile – just what audiences over the last five decades have come to expect from this Chicago entertainment treasure.
The new revue operates on familiar Second City turf. The material explores inter-personal relationships, along with excursions into social and political satire and plenty of improvisation. The stagecraft remains deceptively simple – a bare stage with a half dozen wooden chairs as the main props. Audiences don’t go to Second City for spectacle, they go for rapier-like wit delivered by performers who are exceptionally fast on their feet verbally and often physically. And so it is with the current troupe.
The show did start a little slowly, but picked up momentum near the intermission and soared in the second act as the material improved and the players seemed to grow looser and more confident. Many of the best bits were two handers, like a date gone bad between a devout Christian (Aidy Bryant) and an atheist (Chris Witaske) trying to fudge his non-belief to save the faltering relationship.
The real test of any Second City company comes in the improvisation skits. Of course, luck plays a major role in whether or not improv works. An uncooperative audience or a dead end topic can be ruinous. But on opening night, the improv stars were in alignment and everything succeeded. Some of the credit goes to the audience, such as when a man pulled from the crowd onto the stage proved especially genial and unflustered, down to the gay wedding climax of his bit. But most of the applause goes to the performers. Bryant and Andel Sudik were a hoot as a pair of 87-year old widows preparing to watch a movie outdoors, humorously engaging front row patrons in backchat as the ladies moved from position to position round the stage with their lawn chairs.
Political commentary threads its way through the revue. The central figures, predictably, are Barack Obama and Mitt Romney (I didn’t catch a single reference to Rahm Emanuel, surprisingly). The Obama-Romney material is pointed but evenhanded and not overly hostile. This is not an angry show when it comes to examinations of the American political and social psyche.
Whether by selection or accident, each cast member has a strikingly defined physical presence – tall and willowy Tawny Newsome, heavyset Bryant, and pint-sized Sudik among the women, and rail thin Mike Kosinski, hunky Witaske, and the very diminutive Michael Lehrer among the males. The assorted physiques give the revue a distinctive visual variety that the performers occasionally exploit. Lehrer, who reminded me of a short Steve Martin, led a clever number about the plus and minuses of being small.
The show offered some clever bits on racial attitudes and feminism. The three ladies performed a cheery song and dance number about the second place status of women in modern society, a segment that was equally spot-on and funny. Newsome, the lone African-American in the ensemble, was in the middle of numerous bits tweaking racial points of view in America, especially among outwardly well-meaning whites.
There were a few dead spots during the evening. A father brings his hyper young daughter for an interview to gain admittance to the prestigious University of Chicago Laboratory School. The kid turns out to be manic and disruptive. Sudik is impressively frenzied as the kid but the skit wore out its welcome early on.
The rare clinker can be excused because of all the good stuff: A class reunion at St. Charles High School cuts beneath the customary glad-handing at such affairs to display school alumni who basically turned into nutcases after graduation; Lehrer plays a real estate agent who leads a prospective house buyer on a most bizarre tour of a house up for sale; and the opening sketch nicely skewers TV news programs that trivialize current events under the shouting mantra “Braking News!”
The revue is directed with much energy and ingenuity by Ryan Bernier. Jesse Case is the music director (who needs to take care that his electronic accompaniment doesn’t overly compete with the performers on stage). Kyle Anderson designed the lighting and Sarah Ross the minimalist set.
photos by Todd Rosenberg Photography
We’re All in This Room Together
Second City e.t.c. cabaret in Chicago
for tickets, call 312 337 3992 or visit http://www.SecondCity.com
for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com