There is something to be said for a year’s experience on the Second City mainstage. Last year’s rookies, Brad Morris and Amber Ruffin, hadn’t quite staked their claim in 2007’s monster hit, “Between Barack and a Hard Place.” This time out, Ruffin is relaxed and goofy, qualities that play nicely against the brittleness of newcomers Shelly Gossman and Emily Wilson. (Gossman seems to have the most potential—a performer willing to embrace the strange if only someone would let her.) But wait until you see Morris. There is a tendency at Second City to mug through a scene; Morris is having none of that. This is not a loud or look-at-me kind of actor, and when he plays a character, it comes from somewhere in his core, veering between deadpan and a condition I would call companionable intensity. Also, he does a mean Chewbacca. Directed by Jim Carlson, the show overall is good but not exceptional. Times are tense, and so is the comedy. The presidential race is boiled down to “black, old or woman.” There is the obligatory “Hey, grandma…” sketch; could do without one of those for a while. Same with the retread Cubs material. Notably, Carlson has toned down the smug and manic edge that tends to creep into these revues when they are directed within an inch of their lives. If only every scene were executed with the same off-kilter attitude as the Jiffy Lube bit, with Morris informing each customer that a simple oil change turned up a few problems, and Ithamar Enriquez (always a welcome and mirthful presence) as the mechanic called in to explain the jargon. The rhythms of the sketch are unexpected and the performances “Office”-like in their heightened sense of reality. Morris even backs into a legitimately funny IKEA joke. If you’re gonna to do an IKEA joke, this is way to do it. (Nina Metz)
At Second City, Pipers Alley, 1608 N. Wells, (312)337-3992. Open run.