Second City e.t.c. takes kinder, gentler approach to Trump era
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The Second City e.t.c.’s new revue bears the title “Fantastic Super Great Nation Numero Uno,” and I’ll give you one guess whose tendency to pile on the super-sized superlatives is being evoked. Yes, by Donald, you’ve got it. And of course you will very soon be calling him Mr. President.
‘FANTASTIC SUPER GREAT NATION NUMERO UNO’
When: Open run
Where: The Second City e.t.c., 1618 N. Wells
Tickets: $19 – $46
Run time: 1 hour and 45 minutes, with one intermission
Of course the Spanish words tacked on to the title just happen to add a priceless bit of wall-scaling commentary. But as it turns out, the show’s diverse cast of seven, under the fleet direction of Ryan Bernier, approaches the arrival of Mr. Trump, and the general discontents of men and women, and the non-white population of this country, in a surprisingly kinder, gentler fashion than you might expect.
It is almost as if at the very moment the world seems to be staging its own grand scale theater of the absurd (one that teeters between tragedy and farce), satire is being used as something of a soothing balm. Or perhaps, in the wake of the real-life Sturm und Drang involving the cast and audience during the run of The Second City e.t.c.’s previous revue, “A Red Line Runs Through It” (a situation that also resulted in significant upheaval among The Second City staff), this show’s mostly new group of writer-performers has decided to shift its tone.
The best sketches in this show all deal with immigrants (or those whose ethnicity suggest they might be). The presence of two performers — Jazbir Vazquez and Tien Tran, who are fluent in Spanish and Vietnamese, respectively — turns out to be a tremendous plus. In one scene, the two are on a date in a rowboat, with each speaking enthusiastically in their “native” language, and neither understanding a single word — which, of course, might be a plus. Without giving too much away, it is worth noting that they share at least one pop culture reference involving the Titanic.
In another scene, Tran (a slender reed of a girl with a wicked comic sensibility) is asked the classic question: “Where are you from?” She immediately launches into a classical Vietnamese song, complete with fan, but the punchline, in English, is priceless — a quintessentially American “reveal.” (Composer-musical director Jacob Shuda supplies just the right accompaniment throughout the show.)
A somewhat more pointed sketch unfolds as Vazquez, an immensely likeable and mischievously understated performer, is having lunch in the food court of a shopping mall. Approached by two U.S. Immigration Service agents (the red-bearded Andrew Knox and nerdy Alan Linic), Vazquez is tested with a series of inane questions (“Who was last year’s NASCAR winner?”), and delivers ideal answers. In another piece, Sayjal Joshi riffs on how the ideal these days is to be ethnically ambiguous, and given the overall size of the Indian population, she speculates that in the not-too-distant future we will all be “brown” people.
Of course there is plenty of classic Second City-style fare about sex and relationships. And while some of the humor is decidedly on the pre-pubescent, fart joke level, there also is enough that is right on target, including an extended sketch about the differences in the way males and females (in separate classrooms) are taught about the opposite sex and the terms they use for various anatomical parts. A sharper piece considers the threat to women’s sexual health and abortion.
An extended sketch in the form of a morning TV show for women (with echoes of both “The View” and “Oprah”) features three eccentric female hosts (Joshi, Tran and Julie Marchiano), who welcome a prolific writer (the spot-on Katie Klein), whose schlock novels draw on her often twisted relationships a wide variety of men. In other sketches, two couples go out for drinks and realize that the opposing husband and wife who work in the same office seem to be having far too close a relationship at work; a newly co-habitating lesbian couple (Joshi and Tien) argue about whose eggs they might use to have a child, and who will be the worst parent; and a man (Knox), who arrives in leg casts at the apartment of his ex-wife and her new love interest, attempts to collect some chairs — the impetus for an extended, but very funny exercise in physical comedy. (In fact, the entire cast moves with panache.)
So, you ask, what about the election of Trump? This is addressed most directly in a sketch that finds Linic, who explains he fell into an alcohol-induced coma after the the Cubs won the World Series, awakes 72 days later to learn who won the election. Along the way there also is an octopus-like puppet creature who might just be a metaphor for you know who.
The show makes its points about the national divide at the moment, but it veers away from being a ferocious political screed. Listen closely and you will note the final word the cast sings is “love.”