Chicago Theater Review: APES OF WRATH (The Second City e.t.c. at Piper’s Alley)

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by Lawrence Bommer on June 23, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

A JUICY CLUSTER OF APES

There are no simians in Apes of Wrath, Second City e.t.c.’s new revue at Pipers Alley—but then, as always, the jokes are on us. The vague premise behind this trenchant, well-targeted sketch satire is that humans are specks in an uncaring universe–so it’s better to light your Chinese lanterns (as seen in the lovely opening and closing segments) than curse that darkness.

(L-R) Punam Patel, Carisa Barreca, Brooke Breit and Tim Ryder in The Second City Etc's performance of "Apes of Wrath"

Director Jen Ellison moves six young, attractive zanies through amazing paces, their rubber faces and limber limbs ripe for caricature at the drop of a premise. The spoofery mostly focuses on how, perversely, we sell ourselves short pretending we’re big: We learn the wrong lessons at the right time, the right ones at the wrong time, or both–then repeat them, always expecting a different outcome.

Punam Patel and Asher Perlman in The Second City Etc's performance of "Apes of Wrath."

You see this in Tim Ryder on a doubtful date, literally reflecting into a mirror (or is it a window?) where a mute stranger (Asher Perlman) displays the defects that have dogged this hopeful fool down to this pseudo moment of truth. Equally self-denigrating, nerdy chessplayers (Punam Patel and Ryder) psyche themselves out instead of each other. Eddie Mujica works the crowd well as an immigrant boning up for his citizenship test by turning the tables on the automatic Americans in the audience.

Carisa Barreca in The Second City Etc's performance of "Apes of Wrath"

There’s an occasional over-reliance on “brand humor” for easy laughs and skits that overly reward a drinking audience’s easy indulgence. But here be more hits than misses, like Perlman detailing the most elaborate wet dream ever. Worthy targets abound: A serious journalist is reduced to trivial celebrity-mongering when he lands a job at BuzzFeed; a paranoid “el” passenger whose fury at a delay forces the cast to remind him that “We Are Insignificant”; a doctor, dealing with idiot parents who refuse to get their kids vaccinated, tries passive aggression, then in-your-face infuriation to force them to face facts; a literal-minded robot whose programming won’t permit him to give his horny owner the unconditional love she demands from her cyborg staff; a wife/astronaut whose demand to “Give Me Space” ushers in an elaborate solar-to-stellar ballet; and a scene containing reckless shooters with concealed-weapons permits. (There’s also a hilarious preview of the inevitable merger of the Milky Way and Andromeda constellations a mere 4 billion years from today: It boasts more astronomical innuendoes than I hope will ever be equaled.)

Asher Perlman and Tim Ryder in The Second City Etc's performance of "Apes of Wrath"

Inevitably, this 38th revue showcases some wicked breakout comedy, like a group freak-out where a nameless menace picks off unwitting victims at the moment they earn their just extinction, but solo scenes also score. Carisa Barreca’s demented passenger Miss Fortune, euphoric as the R.M.S. Titanic tilts, takes charge of her life: Repudiating a damn lifeboat, she has her own dance of death, waltzing with Ryder’s intimidated bursar; sporting a tiara and bloody prom dress, Barreca erupts into “Not Today, Demons!,” an anthem of unsuccessful repression that’s almost contagiously psychotic.

(Back) Asher Perlman (Front L-R) Eddie Mujica, Brooke Breit, Punam Patel, Carisa Barreca and Tim Ryder in The Second City Etc's performance of "Apes of Wrath"

Cornering the market on hysteria, Brooke Breit erupts as an employee so terrified of her losing her job that, propelled by Poe’s “imp of the perverse,” she quickly brings it on. In an inspired improv sequence Breit also apes Gilda Radner as a high school loser who, years later, is a former high school loser. Patel is a stitch doing an infomercial for purity balls for sons who pledge their virginity to their moms (“God is my wife but Mom is my girlfriend…”).

Punam Patel, Brooke Breit and Tim Ryder in The Second City Etc's performance of "Apes of Wrath"

Anyway, two happy hours later, when the lanterns magically return, Apes of Wrath has proved its point: You don’t need to go simian on Steinbeck to show what fools these mortals be.

Tim Ryder in The Second City Etc's performance of "Apes of Wrath"

photos by Todd Rosenberg

Carisa Barreca and Tim Ryder in The Second City Etc's performance of "Apes of Wrath"Apes of Wrath
The Second City e.t.c. Theatre
2nd Floor of Piper’s Alley, 230 W North Ave
Thurs at 8; Fri and Sat at 8 & 11; Sun at 7
ends December 31, 2014
for tickets, call 312-337-3992
or visit Second City

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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