100th Second City revue a real thinker

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Photo by Clayton Hauck for Second City

The subject of identity rings loudly and clearly in the title of The Second City’s new show, “Who Do We Think We Are?” – the 100th revue in the troupe’s more than half-century history – directed by Matt Hovde.

Just who are those politicians who occupy, or wish to occupy the White House? Who are those countless singles who crowd into bars and dance clubs? Who is that spouse who seems to be sharing a living space with you? Who is that woman who might be a man (or the reverse)? Who are we as Americans? And yes, who the heck are YOU, in the eyes of your parents, your date, yourself?

A lot of questions, to be sure, and while the answers are frequently amusing they are hardly revelatory, and the revue needs a good trim.

The show’s opening sequence, in which the writer/performers are spotlighted in the throes of wild pelvic gyrations, homes in on several identity crises, from a young man’s return to live in his parents’ home, to a tax-wary corporate executive who claims his corporation as a dependent. Later, in “a voluntary amnesia experiment,” Tim Baltz plays a researcher who administers small electrical shocks to his five subjects (Blackmon, Laurent, Katie Rich, Mary Sohn and Steve Waltien), as they initially lie about their true situations in life.

A sketch about a racially mixed marriage between a black guy (Edgar Blackmon, who also winningly plays President Obama throughout the evening), and a leggy white woman (Holly Laurent) whom he chastises for watching Fox News, is well done. She calls HIM “a palatable [safe] black guy” and he responds that “without me you’d be Ann Coulter” [the conservative commentator]. It escalates from there.

In a quick-take bit, the essential identities of the 2012 presidential candidates – with Republican Mitt Romney played by Waltien and Obama by Blackmon – is perfectly suggested by body language alone.

A history class is the setting as we are told “time is running out to be racist” (the evidence would suggest otherwise), and everyone jumps into a time machine for encounters with George Washington (who had slaves), Woodrow Wilson (no big supporter of female suffrage), and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who approved internment camps for Japanese-Americans). The punchline involves Republican former presidential wannabe Rick Santorum.

Along with looking at how racial identity can determine attitudes (with Baltz and Blackmon in a frequent black-white revolving door game), the issue of sexual identity also is dealt with, most comically in a reunion of cheerleaders in which the three women are seamlessly joined by Blackmon in a terrific bit of drag.

Several improvised sequences showed these performers, particularly Katie Rich, to be fast on their feet. And in a nice twist, a mock auction is held for the right to have an audience suggestion used as a jumping off point. As the bids rose, a punchline about money determining elections these days took shape.

The revue’s relationship scenes tend to be gross and overdone, invariably leaving you wondering: Who would want to date ANY of these people? But Baltz, going solo, was quite good as a beleaguered optimist who proceeds to lose his job, his wife, his dog and more.

Politics-wise the best comes almost last as Blackmon gives us a second-term Obama who not only asserts his right to smoke, but kicks Congress’ butt. This is followed by a touching view of the future as a mother lists all the things she fears her baby daughter will never experience, though it’s a good bet The Second City will still be around.

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