As the title of the new revue at Second City’s e.t.c. stage promises, “The Best Decision You’ve Ever Made” is about choices, and this show has made one: to play up its people above all else.
When: Open run
Where: Second City e.t.c., 230 W North Ave
Tickets: $29 - $61
Run-time: Two hours with one intermission
A lot of thought can go into the scenes and the jokes and the songs and the segues, but what Second City audiences remember are the actors and the thrill of discovering the irresistible appeal of an Amy Sedaris or a Chris Farley or a Keegan-Michael Key. So this show, directed by Frank Caeti (a former e.t.c. and “MADtv” performer) gives its stars an identity from the start.
They introduce themselves by name as though auditioning to play themselves, each offering specifics about ethnicity, gender and who comes off as “a human labradoodle.” Eschewing the suits and uniforms of past casts, they dress like individuals. Jean jacket? Houndstooth pants? Performance shorts? Whatever works.
Right off the bat, the audience is involved, polled on whether the opening improv should be one scene or three. The pleas for shouted suggestions keep coming (none of that texting they’re doing at the mainstage theater next door), and audience ideas guide the troupe through a first date and a funeral and some awkward sex talks by parents of generations past.
The suggestions are in good hands with these actors, who are quick to react and inspired in how they process the outbursts. This is the second e.t.c. show for most of them (not counting a pandemic-shortened production that didn’t get past previews), and they demonstrate supreme confidence and terrific rapport every moment they’re on.
Unlike the last e.t.c. show, “Grinning From Fear to Fear,” this one wades into political waters. Laurel Krabacher and E.J. Cameron have a wordless vignette about the different ways cops treat a white woman and a Black man driving while high. Cameron takes charge of another scene as a wokeness interrupter speaking truth to a white man (Mark Campbell) whose steps toward allyship aren’t cutting it.
Extending the idea of Joe Biden as a softspoken voice of calm after the chaos of the Trump years, Atra Asdou cleverly plays him as an ASMR practitioner, whispering soothing thoughts about his domestic agenda between lip smacks and paper crumples.
There are a few brief, edgy blackouts, too, including one at a gender reveal party with a gasp-inducing punchline.
A breakout moment for Campbell has him wrestling with his conscience while holding a door for a woman (Alex Bellisle). As she slowly, slowly makes her way toward him, Campbell rattles off his inner turmoil about manhood and chivalry and respect for the opposite sex.
Also torn is a couple (Asdou and Cameron) unsure whether to befriend their landlord, played by resident goofball Krabacher as a shuffling pest with an unstable mustache.
Another burst of silliness casts Bellisle as a therapist helping delinquent teens find meaning in the rock they’re climbing.
The self-defining solo song by a cast member is a Second City trope, and “The Best Decision” opts to send up the concept. Bellisle’s ditty, initially about being Mexican but looking white, goes somewhere else. And when the Middle Eastern Asdou sings that she feels unheard, her point gets abruptly proven.
The personalizing of this show reaches an extreme when Chuck Norment plays an extended scene as themselves, showing their parents (Krabacher and Cameron) around the theater and then interrupting the action to explain why this is happening. It’s poignant but puts the humor on pause for a while.
Later, Norment, a funny and animated presence through most of the show, takes the lead in a pair of bafflers: singing about a certain fetish and playing an S&M dungeon master who leads a would-be audience dance party.
Some of the most exuberant moments in “The Best Decision” revel in this age of sexual openness. Bellisle plays a publicist advising celebrities that their misdeeds will be forgotten if they just come out as queer (whether or not they are).
And there’s some cheery blasphemy when the uptight angel Gabriel (Cameron) announces the Son of God, and free-thinking Mary (Asdou) and Joseph (Norment) are aghast to hear their child gendered.
Pinning a show on its personalities could have been risky, but it works when the players are so appealing — witty and expressive across the board, giving off that vibe of being stars in the making.
Swift pacing, nimble-minded actors and strong material all add up to some prime comedy.
Did I say prime? I meant choice.