The Second City Mainstage. Directed by Ryan Bernier. Music directed by Jacob Shuda. With Chelsea Devantez, John Hartman, Paul Jurewicz, Daniel Strauss, Christine Tawfik, Emily Walker. Running time: 2hrs; one intermission.
Comedy review by Kris Vire
At the top of the Second City's 103rd mainstage revue, we're introduced to a Greyhound bus full of passengers and given peeks into their inner lives and where they're headed. And then, we're told via voice-over, the entire bus and its riders vanish from the face of the Earth, never to be heard from again. It's the kind of opening-sketch setup that invites us to be in on the secret, perhaps returning to these characters and their fates later in the show. But nope, they really are gone, as mysteriously as a Malaysian Airlines flight.
That lack of payoff recurs in the fizzle of a closing scene, a short, wordless number involving an exterminator and a school dance whose meaning my date and I are still trying to parse days later. But in the middle is a collection of sketches without much of a cohesive arc but with a number of very solid laughs.
There's not a weak link in the cast, three mainstage newbies and three returning from the previous revue, Depraved New World. But wiry human Muppet John Hartman continues as MVP, turning in admirably, slightly dangerous work as a deaf middle-school bully and enlivening a Secret Service sketch with his spring-loaded physicality. In a solo sketch in which he calls people he's recently been intimate with to tell them about his new diagnosis (a sketch appropriately referred to on the set list as "Newhart"), he demonstrates an ability to milk giggles with the slightest awkward vocal inflection or facial tic.
As a sad Batman in an amusingly saggy costume, he laments to Robin (Chelsea Devantez) about his impotence in the face of Chicago's gun violence. (This manages to be both the perennial sketch full of Chicago-specific references to make tourists feel like they're getting an authentic experience and a savvy commentary on current events, so A-plus on that.) A semi-improvised sketch featuring Hartman and Paul Jurewicz as cowboys whiling away time by a campfire is another winner.
Jurewicz and Christine Tawfik have an incisive scene as airplane seatmates that starts off generically enough but takes an unexpected, intelligent turn. Returning castmates Chelsea Devantez and Emily Wilson get big showcases in a sketch about ad execs whose spitball pitches for tampons and perfume reveal pent-up womanly frustrations, while Wilson and Jurewicz show off honest acting in a piece about a woman visiting her husband in the hospital; on press night, Daniel Strauss deftly handled a bit of audience-interaction improv. And the first-act closer, a long whole-cast sketch set at a teenage girls' slumber party that initially looks like a facile one-joke bit but gets progressively more absurdist, is exactly the kind of thing to put me on Cloud 9.