Chicago Theater Review: SOUL BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (The Second City e.t.c.)

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by Lawrence Bommer on April 18, 2015

in Theater-Chicago


The title of Second City e.t.c.’s 39th revue, Soul Brother, Where Art Thou?, is more wordplay than revelation. They know very well where to find their very specific “soul brothers.” Their generational sketch humor (targeted mainly to folks under 40) wants to invalidate 2015’s absurdities and expose our place in the idiocy of things. The supple sextet are skilled at inducing the shocks of recognition that emerge as laughter. Director Anthony LeBlanc’s young yuksters haven’t much time for slow scenes that sink in or even running jokes that add up: Their forte is hit-and-run swipes at stupidity. The jokes are more often with than on the crowd.


The evening begins and ends with a person who’s left holding a bomb: Initially, this sudden taste of mortality triggers in the onlookers a recitation of ridiculous regrets. By show’s end it’s morphed into the ironic song “Hold On!” (What can’t be cured must be endured.)


Today’s fault lines snap through Second City’s hilarity of embarrassment, as when Rashawn Nadine Scott’s chirpy Disneyland mascot is forced to comment on Ferguson, MO between Main Street parades. Sketches depict a woman on a first date who has brought along supposedly unseen consultants to expose the guy’s subtexts amid his small talk. And, in one of the few political skits, a smug evangelical clerk at King David’s Bookstore uses “religious freedom” to evict a too-secular customer, utterly ignoring the victim’s quotes from the New Testament extolling tolerance and charity. Homing in on hypocrisy, Scott and Beasley, the African-American contingent here, don dedicated fur coats to explain the dangerous double-standards that apply to black men in Chicago.


The Brits would call Second City’s trouble-shooting targets “sticky wickets.” Certainly, they’ve located the windows of vulnerability that we try to slam shut: tinder dating appraisals; clinging pals who become human text messages clamoring for attention; Cubans struggling to break lifetime habits of hating gringos; and a geek extolling the nerdy merits of the proposed George Lucas museum on stolen lakefront land.


The most elaborate scenes depict a silent-movie chase scene by Keystone Cops, as well as an overprotective, Xbox-playing kid interrogating an entomologist on his motives for dating the brat’s mom. There’s a protracted bit where teleportation subjects alter themselves until they restore the right match-up. Scott Morehead, Eddie Mujica and Tim Ryder play golf goofballs enjoying too many beer breaks between tees. A clever improv section, set during a suicide prevention counseling session, has the zanies staring into mirrors which are really front-row customers, detailing how they really see themselves.


Not everything reaches the escape velocity of true buffoonery. A Roman legionnaire indulges in a pep talk about not going into battle, his sheer sensitivity overwhelming his warrior ethic: Replacing one cliché with another is all too easy. A bit in which testifiers misremember where they were on 9/11 spoofs our trivializing tendencies but skirts tastelessness. Much more original is a technically amazing improv bit where audience members’ pictures are surreptitiously taken by would-be stalkers who then post them through instant projections on imitation social media.


The musical offerings by Alex Kliner punctuate the satire: The women–Scott, Beasley and Carisa Barreca–indulge in a kind of emotional striptease in order to liberate (as in educate) their leering male admirers. A full-blown New Orleans funeral delivers some delightfully un-ironic (as in literal-minded) happiness. Mujica and Beasley as teacher and student erupt in an anti-Rahm Emmanuel rap that fairly scorches the stage.


Like the revue’s title, a lot here falls just short of being gut-bustingly, rib-ticklingly funny. But, almost as psychic compensation, little stinks to high heaven. Middling mockery seems to fit the times and e.t.c. delivers some conditionally hysterical goods.

photos by Todd Rosenberg

Soul Brother, Where Art Thou?
The Second City e.t.c.
Piper’s Alley, 230 W North Ave
Thurs at 8; Fri & Sat at 8 and 11; Sun at 7
ends on February 28, 2016
for tickets, call 312-337-3992 or visit Second City

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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