The Second City e.t.c.’s 40th revue has some pointed and topical material, notably including a musical number eviscerating Mayor Rahm Emanuel and another song that frames the fight over appointing a new Supreme Court justice as a Hamilton-esque rap battle between Mitch McConnell and President Obama. What it lacks, despite the title, is much of a through line.
Compared to the tourist-friendly mainstage, the e.t.c. casts tend to feel more geared toward Chicago dwellers, and you see bits of that here: the opening scene, yet another variation on strangers-on-a-CTA-train; an endearingly odd sketch in which Julie Marchiano is dazzled by date Peter Kim’s Uptown studio apartment.
There are strong moments. The Rahm number is devastating, invoking Laquan McDonald’s killing and asking us to think ahead to the years beyond Rahm’s mayorship, when we’ll have collectively forgotten our anger and eventually have to put his name on something: “What if it’s a fucking school?” What if indeed. The show's music, generally, makes up much of its best material, with strong contributions by musical director Jesse Case.
The cast, with four new members, isn’t running at full steam just yet; returning members Lisa Beasley and Scott Morehead dominate, both displaying a confidence and control they were missing when Soul Brother, Where Art Thou? opened this time a year ago. (Morehead’s at his finest in a second-act sketch in which a ’90s trivia night triggers suppressed trauma.) Kim makes a strong impression as well.
For a revue whose cast makeup offered such promise in its diversity—two-thirds women, half performers of color—Red Line as a whole falls short of transformative. The scenic design, with an initially spotless set sprouting a progression of campaign posters, neighborhood flyers and other urban detritus slapped on by the cast during blackouts, offers a metaphor: They’re literally throwing things at the wall to see what sticks.
The Second City e.t.c. Written and performed by Lisa Beasley, Aasia LaShay Bullock, Peter Kim, Katie Klein, Julie Marchiano, Scott Morehead. Directed by Matt Hovde. Running time: 1hr 55mins; one intermission.