Reviewed by Tom Lawler
The Second City e.t.c.’s 36threvue states its mission at the top: Let’s dock our iPhones, close up our Facebooks and stop feeding our Twitters. For two hours, anyway. Although this latest production from Second City’s feisty e.t.c. cast opens with this somewhat militant message for today’s always-connected generation, don’t worry. The theme makes a few appearances throughout the revue but the focus is on jokes, youthful energy and sketches. Lots of them.
The show veers, at times, toward the self-conscious. Perhaps staking out its own Generation Y turf (have they ceded to Z yet?) compared to their big brothers and sisters on the mainstage, “We’re All in This Room…” doesn’t feature the standard piano accompaniment you’d expect at Pipers Alley, but a DJ (music director Jesse Case, who also sprinkles in several pop music cues and samples). The aggressively-amplified hip-hop samples are…OK…banging and the cast is happy to vamp between some rapidfire one-joke blackouts, but the result, rather than feeling fresh, awkwardly accompanies the comedy and feels more than little retro. Imagine those zingers from Laugh-In with a bit more bass on the soundtrack, and you’re not far off.
When the cast is allowed to stretch into longer sketches, its diverse, distinct comedic styles shine. Standouts include Second City newcomer Andel Sudick, whose best scene has her portraying a petulant adolescent who torpedoes her interview for an exclusive prep school. Her bold choices and willingness to go truly weird are reminiscent of Kristin Wiig and Rachel Dratch at their best. Chris Witaske displays chops, versatility and swagger a la Kevin Dorf in his heavy workload of sketches. Michael Lehrer, who often portrays characters being pushed to their limits, hits just the right notes in a hilarious ode to his diminutive status (in which he brags to the ladies, “my hand will fit in yours”). All three are also especially comfortable during the improvised scenes with the audience: Lehrer is hilarious in a parody of flip-flopping Chicago aldermanic candidates at a debate; Witaske uproarious when he crashes a same-sex wedding. Rounding out this superb cast are Michael Kosinski, Tawny Newsome and Aidy Bryant.
As their own writers of this revue, the cast also covers a lot of ground with smart, well-executed pieces on topics including: the inanity of “breaking news” in a local newscast, the geeky new faces of modern warfare (they may not be able to digest gluten, but they’re quite lethal), how not to crash a Christian dating mixer, and the exploitation of personal pain in country music, which, it should be noted, pushes the envelope with a level of profanity that probably wouldn’t fly with the suburban and tourist bread and butter that the larger theater upstairs trades in. One of the more heavily produced sketches, a parody of ‘80s cool complete with period-perfect sound cues and wardrobe touches, doesn’t fully justify the effort.
“We’re All in This Room…” wisely closes with its most visually inventive sketch: an illustration of the demonic powers of alcohol and controlled substances that transform us from self-determining individuals into mere puppets. This cautionary message hopefully resonated with any heavy drinkers in attendance, and fortunately, for the Second City serving staff, arrived after the check drop.
Running Time: 2 hours with intermission
At Second City e.t.c. Theater, 1608 N. Wells St. 2nd Floor
Written by the ensemble and directed by Ryan Bernier, Aidy Bryant and Michael Lehrer
Musical Director: Jesse Case
Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8pm
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and 11pm
Sundays at 3pm and 7pm
Thru August 28
Buy Tickets at www.secondcity.com or call 312-337-3992.