In Second City’s ‘Dream Freaks,’ a talented cast dodges the politics
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As the politics outside its doors have led to increasingly cavernous divides, so have the politics inside at The Second City, where executives are coming and going, and where more than half the cast abruptly left a fiery but well-received e.t.c. show, some going public with their discontent and one suing another and alleging racial discrimination.
Which may explain why the new mainstage show at Second City, “Dream Freaks Fall From Space,” feels like it’s been assembled by people who’ve had it up to here with politics and just want to goof around. In the continuing advancement of Second City as a source of insight about the world, this show is a step backward.
Which doesn’t mean it’s a bad show. Just not a very ambitious one.
‘DREAM FREAKS FALL FROM SPACE’
When: Open run
Where: Second City, 1616 N. Wells
Info: (312) 337-3992; http://www.secondcity.com
Running time: Two hours with intermission
While “Dream Freaks” over all adapts the sensory bombardment techniques of recent revues at Piper’s Alley — a relentless, quicksilver pace, barely perceptible scene breaks accompanied by brief throbs of wake-up music, f-words galore — within the moment it tends to play old school.
How old-school? The opening is literally a guy — Nate Varrone — sitting at drum set, rattling off one-liners about America and providing his own rim shots. Straight outta vaudeville.
The likable writer-performers spend the whole show in white jumpsuits, something about how everything is a 21st-century dream by people in the year 80,085. But that gimmick doesn’t come up much, save for a funny little Lilith Fair song by the cast’s three women in gray wigs, celebrating (explicitly) how life improved for women after the patriarchy fell.
More often, the cast and veteran Second City director Ryan Bernier evoke the past. Just as an earlier Second City generation softened tough-guy Chicago cops by putting them in a ballet (“Swine Lake”), these actors do the same with tough-guy Donald Trump. Remember how funny it was when Sam Richardson stripped to his undies and danced? Here’s another chunky guy doing the same.
Some of the more grounded, character-driven scenes barely touch on their era. In the old days, the manic supermom (Kelsey Kinney) dependent on Oxycodone would instead be popping “uppers.” The three friends (Davis, Ryan Asher and Tien Tran) dishing on their dates could be at Butch McGuire’s in its heyday. And the man (Jeffrey Murdoch) duping his ex (Kinney) into believing he has a fiancee (Asher) could have been driving a cab instead of an Uber.
Trump, of course, already is exhaustively ribbed by network talk shows, cable faux-news shows and Comedy Central’s entire series devoted to a Trump parodist. So maybe it’s enough that all he gets here is that ballet, and Tyler Davis’ cutting solo song about questioning the voting history of his dates.
But that’s about as deep as “Dream Freaks” goes politically. Issues in Chicago are barely mentioned. Its method of addressing hot-button topics — like the arrest rates of blacks, or coverage of Islamic terror — is not to dramatize them, but to blurt out facts about them in the midst of something fluffier.
That said, what this show sets out to do, it does well. It’s a sensational showcase for the cast’s talents. Kinney, the only holdover from the earlier “Winner … Of Our Discontent,” shows off her full wild-eyed range as a child ghost trying to win over her home’s potential buyers. Davis shows expert physicality as a criminal using no words to convince an audience member to back up his alibi. Varrone is the resident weirdo, at home as Vladimir Putin on a hobby horse or as a twisted nuclear holocaust survivor determined to live like Mad Max. And everyone seems to have an instrumental skill, be it on the violin, the electric bass or the trumpet.
The improvising is adept and abundant, although seen mostly in thin party-trick formats, as when Murdoch and Tran roam the seats trying to find common threads between audience members.
“Dream Freaks Fall From Space” is a show sure to leave many a first-time visitor satisfied with the volume of laughs. And a few others wondering how this theater ever get a reputation for provocation.