We're All in This Room Together | Comedy review

Second City e.t.c.

Second City e.t.c. Photo : Dave Rentauskas

Rev up the convertible, crank up the jams and get ready for a cruise down Lake Shore Drive with the cast of the Second City e.t.c. as it presents its 36th revue, and breeziest in ages, We're All in This Room Together. In a summer that's already being defined by stifling hot temps and negative political attack ads, WAITRT is a breath of fresh air in which cable news anchors break spontaneously into song, nerds are the new foot soldiers in the war on terror and, if you're lucky, you'll walk away at the end of the night with a t-shirt that reads, "I had my gay wedding at the Second City." I'm already looking forward to seeing it again.

"We love this city," and "our job kicks your job's ass," declares the talented ensemble at the top of the show. Indeed, WAITRT is a Chicago-centric show, but of a different kind. Par for the course political satire and weighty relationship scenes are few and far between, and that's a relief. This revue is about dog-day pleasures like movies in the park and nights out on the town. It captures Chicago in a way that's (mostly) free of the cliched jabs the Second City is often guilty of, like relentless use of South Side accents and crooked politicians. It's a sweeter treat than fro-yo and air conditioning on the hottest day of July.

We have the cast to thank for this. Unlike the Mainstage, whose cast is mostly veteran performers, this company is full of newcomers, and their puppy-dog energy is invigorating to watch. Only Aidy Bryant and Michael Lehrer have a previous e.t.c. show under their belt (the Jeff award-winning but ultimately flavorless Sky's the Limit) and this time around they've stepped up to the plate. If comedy originates from pain, Lehrer, for example, milks it with a scene in which he literally struggles to find the spotlight while singing about being a short guy in a tall man's world. (It's a nice win that ensemble member Kosinski and musical director Jesse Case tower behind him in perfect hyperbole.) Bryant, meanwhile, has a scene-stealing sketch as country singer Dolly Mae Daniels who travels with her all ex-husband band. Her showdown with husband number four is unforgettable.

Good thing Bryant and Lehrer are up to the challenge because newcomers Mike Kosinski, Tawny Newsome, Andel Sudik and Chris Witaske are nipping at their heels the entire time. Witaske's Reagan-era swinger who courts a big-haired Newsome by dropping names like Tucker and taking her for a ride in his Ferrari is a fucking blast to watch and is full of exuberant little details that take us right back to the early eighties. We couldn't be happier, meanwhile, for Kosinski's earnest bachelor who finally meets the man of his dreams in an improvised doozy that both recalls and raises the stakes on a similar scene done with aplomb by Brendan Jennings in the e.t.c.'s Absolute Best Friggin' Time of Your Life. (Note to gay-rights advocates: This is how you win hearts and minds.) And Sudik excels both in physical comedy and improvisation. You will laugh when you see her portray an eight-year-old climbing into a Baby Bjorn.

Not all is perfect. Act two, for example, lacks the adrenaline rush of act one with its giddy high school reunion sketch and simultaneously hilarious and earnest take on Christian dating. (although it's not without its highlights, including a tequila and beer-fueled night on the town.) Also, the show's theme—turn off your cell phone and Twitter feed and enjoy the unique experience of live theater—feels too serious for a revue that is so loose, noisy and balls-to-the-wall fun. (The poster art for the show, an eerily haunting picture that recalls either a murder mystery or the cover to the 1981 ABBA album The Visitors, is similarly misleading.) Otherwise, We're All in this Room Together is solid. Don't be surprised if by the end you're inspired to take a sunset drive down LSD, watch a movie under the stars or get gay married. Trust me.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)