Second City (Main Stage)
Do You Believe in Madness?
At Second City (Main Stage) by Dan Zeff
Chicago – Second City is now presenting a new revue with a new ensemble in its Mainstage theater, and both are a considerable upgrade over the recently closed “Algorithm Nation.” The new revue, number 108, is called “Do You Believe in Madness?” The madness refers to the world we live in, which the six-member cast considers mad indeed, and with cause. They prove their point by continuously hitting numerous topical nails on the head with wit and bemused exasperation.
The revue returns to form by shedding the vulgarity and obviousness of too much of show 107. ”Madness” covers the same satirical ground—political, social, and domestic—but with bull’s-eye wit. The show is up to the minute when setting forth topics from Donald Trump to Facebook, and takes a refreshing look at matters like the environmental crisis, sexism, racism, and ethnic gender discrimination, whether it takes place at a bus stop or on a restaurant date. There is even an off-the-wall salute to Hawaii, possibly in deference to Jordan Savusa, a hairy member of the cast who hails from Hawaii.
The show is directed with unhurried but firm pace by Ryan Bernier, complemented by musical director Nick Gage. The skits and sketches flow smoothly, augmented by the injection of razor-sharp quickie blackouts, which seemed to be a lost art in recent revues. The improvisation moments, all based suggestions solicited from the audience, worked successfully on opening night, a tribute to the quick thinking and composure of the cast.
The revue has its R-rated bits, but they are funny and often incisive. One portrays a teacher engaging a class of grade school students in sexual discussions, which could have been tasteless but turned out to be one of the evening’s best comic set pieces. The funniest sight gag in the show involved an exasperated and finally panic-stricken man who gets his hands caught in the crotch of his tuxedo pants. So it’s manner and not matter that makes the material work, and “Madness” was a triumph of savvy comic invention when potholes of vulgarity and bad taste loomed.
There the show has none of the running gags that populated typical previous Second City revues. Each bit in “Madness” stands on its own merits. No one issue dominate but cumulatively the cast creates a humorous picture of how confused, angry, misguided, corrupt, and wrong thinking our world can be. The material, though inevitably leaning leftward, takes its shots at both blue and red thinking with an even hand. I don’t recall a cheap shot aimed at either side.
Inevitably, in a show that runs almost two hours there are bits that lag behind the bulk of the show in comic and satirical achievement, but “Madness” racks up a an impressive number of extra base hits and virtually no strikeouts. That’s especially laudatory because all six cast members are making their Mainstage debuts, though each performer had experience in the Second City performing farm system. But they are all ready for prime time, melding individual skills with a nifty rapport in the ensemble pieces.
The ensemble consists of three males and three females with the ladies exhibiting the edgier manner. African American Asia Martin handles the bulk of the racial material and joins with performing sisters Sarah Dell’Amico and Mary Catherine Curran in distributing the majority of pointed material. Male members Jordan Savusa, Andrew Knox, and Adam Schreck were involved in most of the neurotic-tinged material. Each performer is a winner but pushed to the wall, I would select Knox as the first among equals for his shape-shifting personality.
The physical production has long ago separated itself from the standard wooden chairs and three rear stage doorways that represented the Second City look during its early decades. The backdrop now is a wall of colored flashing squares, a more 21st century style though Second City customers of a certain age may miss the basic original backdrop. The new show is especially verbal, with rather less music than earlier shows, though Martin nailed a high speed rap number as one of the evening’s highlights.
A word of praise goes to the opening night audience, usually obnoxiously raucous in its whooping and cheering as individuals jockeyed to display themselves as the hippest people in the house. The “Madness” opening nighters obviously enjoyed themselves hugely but they showed their appreciation with laughter and not “look at me” narcissism, exhibiting adult behavior in the best sense of the phrase.
So, Second City is firmly back on the comic rails, passing out cynicism and ridicule with an even hand. The new cast goes six-for-six in the qualities that make a Second City performer so special. And lest we forget, the cast collectively is responsible for writing all the material in the revue. They have cast a critical eye on the world around us and identified our perilous situation with humor and insight. A demanding assignment done well!
The show gets a rating of.
“Do You Believe in Madness?” is playing an open run in the Second City Mainstage Theater, 1616 North Wells Street. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 8.p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 and 11 p.m., and Sunday at 7 p.m. Tickets begin at $31. Call (312) 337-3992 or visit www.secondcity.com.