You might think you've seen the Second City's 104th mainstage revue before, but give it the chance to revisit itself.
By intermission of the Second City’s 104th mainstage revue, it seemed like a lot of the company’s recent flagship shows: a mostly strong collection of unrelated sketches—some with razor-sharp fangs, others a little gummier—that made a decent showcase for returning cast members Chelsea Devantez, Paul Jurewicz and Daniel Strauss to mesh with mainstage newcomers Rashawn Nadine Scott, Sarah Shook and Jamison Webb. But the bits about family relationships, modern technology and some nicely ballsy topical commentary would come without any apparent throughline or theme.
But as the second act got underway, it became clear that director Ryan Bernier and his cast had pulled one over on me. The show’s concept is right there in the title, and it pushes Fool Me Twice, Déjà Vu into the ranks of Second City’s strongest revues of recent years.
Most of the first set’s sketches—including a so-so opener about office workers in 1990 who seem to know all too much about the future; a delightfully over-the-top scene among the women about hyper-competitive übermoms; and an inventive bit about a Schaumburg mom (Devantez) who secretly moonlights as a stand-up comic—get revisited from new angles after the break.
That kind of déjà vu might appear to have danger written all over it: You’re going to reprise the same jokes we just saw? But Bernier and company are cannier than that—these aren’t rinse-and-repeat takes. In some cases, the two versions might be different takes on a physical-comedy pairing that involves Jurewicz sitting on Devantez’s lap. Elsewhere, a sharp but simple blackout gag about police brutality leads sideways into a deeper, more thoughtful take on the same hot topic.
Even the audience-interaction bits draw interesting lines between the night’s first and second iterations. (In this show, no audience member gets brought up onstage—at least not physically.) Scott, a performer with a compelling stage presence who’s had a remarkable 14-month rise from her breakout performance in Second City’s collaboration with Hubbard Street Dance, The Art of Falling, to the most recent e.t.c revue Soul Brother, Where Art Thou? to her mainstage debut here, continues to command our attention.
The other newcomers, Shook and Webb, are equally magnetic (watch for Shook as an obnoxious mother in a restaurant scene that’s too real, and in her pairing with Webb in a schmaltzy B-movie style romantic setup). Devantez, separated from former castmate and frequent comedy partner Emily Walker, stands out anew with fun-but-unhinged characters. I’d argue that Jurewicz, who’s surely doomed to Chris Farley comparisons as long as he’s on this stage, is actually doing something much shrewder in his deployment of his body type, while Strauss offers up credible straight men (and an on-the-nose Bernie Sanders impression). Déjà Vu may seem a little familiar at first, but it’s probably more innovative than what you think you’ve seen before.
The Second City Mainstage. Written and performed by Chelsea Devantez, Paul Jurewicz, Rashawn Nadine Scott, Sarah Shook, Daniel Strauss, Jamison Webb. Directed by Ryan Bernier. Running time: 1hr 45mins; one intermission.