Second City e.t.c. Directed by Jen Ellison. With Carisa Barreca, Brooke Breit, Eddie Mujica, Punam Patel, Asher Perlman, Tim Ryder. Running time: 2hrs; one intermission.
Comedy review by Kris Vire
The Second City e.t.c.’s 38th revue opens with a scene that likely hit all too close to home for some of the reviewing press on opening night. New cast member Tim Ryder plays a former newspaper reporter on his first day as a staffer at BuzzFeed, hearing his hard-news pitches about climate change and fracking policy transformed by his new coworkers into potential listicles of Ryan Gosling GIFs.
I can certainly appreciate a good laugh about the pressure to go viral. Yet this is a scenario that, while given some sharp edges by castmates like Brooke Breit and Asher Perlman, doesn’t feel terribly fresh. Apes of Wrath, on the whole, indicates that it wants to say what we’re all thinking, when in practice, it’s saying what we’ve all said.
A sketch about a doctor dealing with new parents who’ve decided not to vaccinate their child, based on their own “research,” is another example. The doc calls in a “surrogate” on whom he gets to vent his rage at their stupidity, while asking the couple not to listen even though they can obviously hear him. The piece is satisfying in a certain sense of evidence-based release, but unless Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jenny McCarthy happens to be in the audience, it doesn’t quite feel like speaking truth to power.
To be fair, the new revue had an unplanned cast replacement weeks into its writing process, which necessitated jettisoning a good deal of material and perhaps rushed generating of new stuff. Even the show’s title and boilerplate description, which reference our devolution into simian incivility in times of stress, feel out of place in a collection of sketches that’s turned out to be much more centered on space-exploration themes.
But if the writing can feel undercooked, the cast proves largely impressive. Eddie Mujica is winning in a sketch in which he portrays a subservient robot companion to Breit, who brightens up her every scene. Mujica also earns laughs in a couple of blackout scenes that hinge on his unhinged physicality, though a second-act solo bit in which he interacts with the audience as a Cuban immigrant about to take his citizenship test overstays its welcome.
Carisa Barreca (returning, like Breit and Punam Patel from the previous e.t.c. show, A Clown Car Named Desire) shines in a musical number as a mercilessly, murderously “perfect” Disney-princess type, and Ryder won me over late in the show with a solo song as an earnest worship leader at a Christian youth camp, recounting everything his young charges should apologize for having been done in Jesus’ name.
First-time e.t.c. director Jen Ellison manages the traffic, both physical and thematic, quite well given the circumstances. If Apes of Wrath doesn’t find any fully transcendent moments, it provides a solid evening of laughs that’ll make you want to keep an eye on Ellison and her capable cast.