SECOND CITY UNHINGED, Second City E.T.C. The Tuesday-night lineup of "Second City Unhinged" features improv combos whose players abandon too much to the anarchy of improvisation. A surefire test of a troupe is how well the performers adhere to the all-important audience suggestion. As directed by Peter Gwinn, P.O.V. is a problematic long-form improvisation despite the skills of its six players. The suggestion was "slow driving," a potentially fertile premise--highway hazards might have been compared to psychological problems. Instead the ensemble created cleverly contrasted characters--a family driving back from a bat mitzvah, a drug dealer and a demented girl, competitive Jesus freaks--whose stories refused to dovetail into any resolution.
Though a tad long, Messing With a Friend hewed a bit closer to the audience suggestion--"mannequins." Second City alum Susan Messing and guests Lisa Lewis and Alex Fendrich played well together, providing unpredictable plot twists and some affecting internal monologues for the mannequins and the lonely store employees who manipulate them.
The better-shaped Wednesday offerings get things right. Two-Faced is a terrific example of tag-team comedy, exuberantly written and performed by Aimee McKay and Linnie Wheeless and directed by Peter Grosz. Exposing hypocrisy and enhanced by marvelous masks, this sketch-comedy show capitalizes on the contrast between the big-boned McKay and the thin, blond Wheeless. The action builds from the physical to the psychological through a series of "two-faced" encounters: a Gypsy fortune-teller convinces a customer, best friends are divided by the need to pick teammates, survivors of plastic surgery commiserate. This cunningly detailed character comedy leaves you wanting more.
Equally on target is The Winston Revue, featuring two sublimely paired playmates: Rich Prouty (all but coiffed to death) and an acutely cheerful Molly Erdman, wearing a blond wig so perky not even a flamethrower could disturb it. Playing smarmy pseudocelebrities in a Vegas-style variety show, they drop names and indulge in vacuous topical banter, perfectly delivering white-bread rap songs and brittle interactions with the audience.