Second City (Main Stage)

Dream Freaks Fall from Space

At The Second City (Mainstage)

By Dan Zeff

Chicago – The newest Second City mainstage revue (impressively its 106th) calls itself “Dream Freaks Fall from Space,” which suggests audiences are in for an evening of science fiction and fantasy humor. And there indeed is some of that, the performers announcing that the action is set is 80,085 years into the future. There is also a lot of present day material and numerous sketches that seem to free float on the stage, time and place unspecified.    The many skits have their bright moments and some themes pop up more than once, but the revue has no overall coherent narrative line, and maybe doesn’t seek one. If the cast thinks of something funny, they toss it in and move on.

The revue’s material is variable in achievement, but there is one consistent factor, especially in the first act. The show is loud, the shouting and gesticulating often reaching a frenzied pitch. But even when the material isn’t all that funny, or it’s indecipherable, you have to admire the ensemble’s energy.  Possibly the ensemble was especially fired up for opening night. I hope their lungs hold out as the production goes deep into its run.

The cast, three from Ohio, is largely new to the mainstage. The cast consists of three young men and three young women, all wearing white coveralls for the entre evening (symbolizing space suits?). They are males Tyler Davis, Jeffrey Murdoch (who reminds one physically of early Second City great Avery Schreiber), and Nate Varrone, and females Ryan Asher, Kelsey Kinney, and Tien Tran. The sextet receives both performing and writing credit for the revue.

9/28/17 1:26:03 PM The Second City
Mainstage 106th Review
Featuring:
Tien Tran
Nate Varrone
Jeffrey Murdoch
Ryan Asher
Kelsey Kinney
Photo Credit:  Todd Rosenberg 2017

The show skims from scene to scene in the Second City tradition, mixing improvisation with verbal skits and musical numbers. Many of the performers are competent in playing a musical instrument on stage, though the musical accompaniment mostly falls to musical director and composer Vinnie Pillarella, who is a deft hand at producing stomping musical sounds electronically.

Though “Dream Freaks” doesn’t have a consistent theme, there are a few running gags. It will surprise nobody in the audience that the company frequently goes after Donald Trump. Tyler Davis sings the derisive “Did You Vote for Trump,” accompanying himself on the electric guitar. The lyrics are clever, the music catchy, and the viewers, traditionally a liberal youngish crowd, loved every satiric chorus. The visual hit of the show is a musical parade of the six players each wearing a head-sized colored cardboard portrait of the president displaying six different facial expressions, all taken from life and all hilarious, to the accompaniment of “Send in the Clowns.”

Without cutting very deep, the revue does touch on a few hot button issues of the day, like global warming and feminism. Nate Varrone delivered the oddest bit in the show, a monologue featuring a bare-chested Russian leader Vladimir Putin mounted on a hobbyhorse and offering some pungent criticisms of the American character, a number of them uncomfortably recognizable. The audience initially greeted the bit with chuckles but after a minute or two the room got a little quiet as the shock of recognition hit the patrons.

The improvisations, always a game of chance, if the audience isn’t responsive, were largely successful on opening night. In the best improv of the evening, the cast deftly worked the audience on the theme of six degrees of separation uniting everyone on the planet. The funniest sketch was a song led by Tien Tran with the title “Your baby is gay,” a startling topic but a hoot, garnished by the players producing a baby-sized fabric doll that got passed through the audience like a beach ball.

The physical production receives a boost from set designer Bob Knuth and lighting and technical director Kyle Anderson. Second City will never be known for spectacle, but the light and sound effects get the job done. Whoever decided that everyone on stage should always wear white coveralls rightfully does not get a costume design credit.

Director Ryan Bernier gets high props for welding a disparate selection of sketches into a manageable whole, though his directing does not err on the side of subtlety. Bernier is working with a basically new set of Second City mainstage personalities and he has woven them into a cohesive ensemble. The timing is sharp and the six players have good rapport, working well together in all manner of combinations. No one performer stands out, though I liked Varrone for his versatility, including some nice licks on the drum set.

Photo Credit: Todd Rosenberg

When “Dream Freaks from Space” is good, it is very good, showing its satirical chops in the Trump bits and a flare for hard-edged whimsy in the “Baby is gay” song. Some of the material struggled and I had problems understanding the performers when the singing and dialogue turned shrill or the players overlapped in their dialogue. Burt either the revue improved as it went along or I adjusted, but by the second act I thought the production was approaching vintage Second City.

The show gets a rating of .

”Dream Freaks Fall from Space” is playing an open run at the Second City mainstage, 1616 North Wells Street. Performances are Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 and 11 p.m., and Sunday at 7 p.m. Tickets begin at $29. Call 312 337 3992 or visit www.SecondCity.com.                                     October 2017

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