This timely, sharply clever, often riotous revue achieves the near impossible during a moment when creating topical comedy seems like something of a dare. I, for one, went to the opening wondering if the Second City’s trademark mocking of chauvinisms, social divides and political hypocrisies might fall flat. Or worse, land as grenades and push some in the audience to interrupt or storm out. The title may promise a Dr. Seuss-inspired journey into an alternate fantasy world. Even the opening spiel that points audiences to the emergency exits is in Seussian verse. But the kids’ stuff stops there.
Thanks to its cast of joyous, nimble clowns—who are also the show’s smart writers—”Places” delights while also provoking, just enough. The sketch that kicks off the show is set in the bedroom of a febrile temptress and the man who’s excitedly joined her for a one-night stand. While urging her man to bed she reveals she had stormed the Capitol on January 6, is a big R. Kelly fan and that she admires Woody Allen’s movies and his personal choices. Her lover, blue in politics and gonads, fights to overcome his horniness. We hear his tortured “Should I, shouldn’t I” internal doubts. As with several of the sketches, this one takes a hilarious and unexpected turn. Leila Gorstein, the vixen in the scene, is a brilliant mugger and a fearless physical comedian. One of the pleasures of the night is seeing the many voices and faces she dons in one sketch after another. Likewise for Tim Metzler, her prey in the scene. Even by Second City standards, the versatility of the show’s cast is dizzying. Claudia Martinez and Jordan Savusa, now veterans of the main stages, change characters quickly and decisively, but even their wickedest, soundest parodies never lose their sense of fun. Meghan Babbe and Brittani Yawn add their own fresh takes on familiar improv types.
Second City’s e.t.c. shows often feature a fair amount of improvised material. On opening night, the cast of “Places” inventively used information prompted from audience members. There was, for instance, the repeatedly funny running gag spun out from the woman in the front row’s admission that she hailed from Waterville, Maine and knits for a hobby. And yet, the cast did not brave the usual kind of open-ended audience suggestions that are improv staples. They didn’t ask for suggestions for places, professions, periods, relationships or emotions. There may be too many third rails in our tense time to risk giving much unscripted choice to an audience. Even so, this rich and snappy weaving of skits still combines its scripted wit, by turns goofy and pointed, with plenty of spontaneous schtick and room to laugh.
“Oh, the Places You’ll Glow” at Second City e.t.c. Theater, 230 West North. Open Run.