If there’s a smile on the cast’s face in the newest Second City show, it’s only there trying to fool the public into letting its guard down. In the actual execution, there’s no attempt to conceal the furies and frustrations and fears of these clowns.
The e.t.c. company in “A Red Line Runs Through It” is a seemingly upbeat bunch, genial and eager to please. But as the actors’ expressions reassure, their opinions unsettle. The wrong is condemned. F-words and n-words erupt. The smiles remain.
Enemy No. 1: Rahm Emanuel. Scott Morehead’s ditty about loving the mayor despite his misdeeds escalates into a full-cast, full-thunder hip-hop harangue accusing Chicagoans of obsessing over the trivial (Movies in the Park, ketchup-free hot dogs) and ignoring the injustices. To their eyes, it’s a given that Emanuel covered up the Laquan McDonald video to win re-election, a charge repeated several times for maximum effect. The ideas are powerful and at times borderline unfair, and all along the way, they’re funny in their audacity.
‘A RED LINE RUNS THROUGH IT’
When: Open run
Where: Second City e.t.c., 230 W. North
Tickets: $23 – $48
Info: (312) 664-4032;
Clearly, this is not a night of gentle pokes at the powerful. These guys punch and pierce, hoping to leave marks. They wear the Guy Fawkes masks of insurrection. They spit rhymes about the obstruction of a Supreme Court nominee. They embellish a Frank Lloyd Wright tour with facts about the architect’s sordid life. For the bystanders in the audience, it’s invigorating stuff to witness.
“Red Line” is directed by Matt Hovde, the man behind several of Second City’s triumphs in recent years, notably “Between Barack and a Hard Place” and “Campaign Supernova,” and he has another winner here, slick and fast-paced.
The show wants to go beyond the tourist-friendly shallows in its treatment of Chicago, and signals as such with the set. The walls of bungalow brick are adorned with familiar signage: a traffic sign, a parking ticket, a TARGET RATS poster right out of your alley. In time a Divvy bike is stashed and just stays there for subsequent scenes.
Audience suggestions drive several scenes, notably a song about someone’s pet peeve that seamlessly interlaces the new and the rehearsed to form what comes off as an improvised production number complete with choreography and clever rhymes. Pretty dazzling. Less successful is a TV news promo improvised anew for different markets, some of the actors flailing for jokes, or at least good ones.
Two of the cast members, Morehead and Lisa Beasley, are holdovers from last year’s “Soul Brother, Where Are Thou?,” and their experience is serving them well. Morehead finds the right touch for a variety of roles, from a man trying to comfort his distraught wife (Katie Klein, suitably erratic) with Aldi metaphors to half of a couple (alongside Julia Marchiano, his feisty equal) picking each other apart to determine which one is dating up.
Beasley has more showcase moments here for her bemused aplomb, in particular a virtuoso solo blues number about her real-life new baby. She’s paired with newcomer Aasia Lashay Bullock for several funny bits: a conversation between neighbors looking down on everyone else, an explanation of black women’s mystique using magic tricks, and a great little vignette set in a movie theater.
Diversifying its casts has been a Second City goal for a while, and with this one we have a group that can hit hard on issues of race and gender without it seeming icky. When it’s time for two guys to get ready for a night out at the drag bar, the joke is not on the guy in the immaculate dress and wig (Peter Kim, a crisp presence throughout) but instead on his well-meaning straight buddy in the lumpy sports bra (Morehead), trying his best to make it work.
It’s a good team to challenge the locals and educate the tourists in the months to come. Trust these actors to tell it straight, with smiles on their faces.