Second City e.t.c.
Grinning From Fear to Fear
At The Second City e.t.c by Dan Zeff
Chicago– The new revue at Second City e.t.c. is called “Grinning from Fear to Fear,” a clever title for a pretty clever show, at least for most of the evening.
The show, the 43rd since 1983, introduces five new faces to the e.t.c., Andrew Knox being the only returning performer. At its best, the company exudes high energy and versatility. Occasionally performers descend into silliness and even more unfortunately, into vulgarity trying to sell itself as adult humor. But overall there is more gold than dross in the sketches and blackouts.
The revue takes its shots satirically at the foibles of American society, but this is not an angry show. The topics include the usual suspects, like racism, sexism, domestic relationships, and social issues like the repudiation of climate change by people who simply refuse to recognize the obvious. But considering how much there is in the world to be bitter about, “Grinning from Fear to Fear” is more rueful than snarling.
In keeping with recent Second City revues, there is comparatively little political satire, curious at a time when the targets for political humor are so dominant. Yet there is nothing in the show about Chicago politics, even though the city just went through a contentious and tradition breaking mayor campaign and election, and I only caught one passing reference to President Trump. There is one funny sketch about how the Bill of Rights might be revised according to modern sensibilities. But overall I missed the satirical venom that flavored Second City shows of the past.
On opening night, the e.t.c. company had some good fortune in its improvisations, always a tricky business being heavily reliant on the cooperation and responses of the audience. The best improv was a rendering of a surprise birthday party organized by friends of the birthday man and augmented by audience members brought on stage as party guests. The entire company incorporated the spectators to considerable humorous effect, thanks mostly to the comic skills of Andrew Knox as the birthday boy. Knox is the sole returnee to the e.t.c. company and he shows the stage presence and wit that indicate he has a future as a successful comic actor
The newcomers to the Second City stage are Atra Asdou, Chuck Norment, E. J. Cameron, Laurel Krabacher, and Mark Campbell. Cameron does a nice rap bit and Campbell reminded me of Don Knox in his slender physique and fussy stage movements. As usual, the revue ensemble gets writer credit for the revue. Their collective talents scored particularly well in the song lyrics, which were literate and incisive and funny. The entire revue was orchestrated with pace and precision by director Anneliese Toft.
On the other hand, this is probably as good a place as any to again complain about the excessive use of explicit sexual references and profanity during the evening, a fault that has afflicted several recent Second City shows. Swearing has its place if done with comic skill, but the relentless dropping of f-bombs and kindred obscenities continues to strike me as an easy way to extract laughs from a basically young audience that wants to be considered hip. And the sexual references are embarrassing, not erotic or comic. If I am overreacting, so be it.
The technical credits go to Bob Knuth for his basic functional set design and Kyle Anderson for his flashy and colorful lighting design. Jacob Shuda composed the original music, designed the sound plan, and is the musical director.
“Grinning from Fear to Fear” is one of the better recent Second City revues, though I’d like more edginess and topicality in the material and much less X rated language. But the company works well together led by Knox and Cameron, and as usual the audience whooped and applauded throughout the entire show. But minute for minute and dollar for dollar, a Second City show still consistently remains the best entertainment value in Chicago.