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CD-ROM Wasn't Built in a Day, or Information Highway to Hell; Jacked: A Virtual Love Story

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CD-ROM WASN'T BUILT IN A DAY, OR INFORMATION HIGHWAY TO HELL

Second City Northwest

Second City Northwest's 13th revue, CD-ROM Wasn't Built in a Day, or Information Highway to Hell, is a smooth series of sweet and tart skits--not one falls on its face, though two don't end cleanly. Director Michael Gellman showcases a very secure ensemble: usually no one person stands out, and as a result the sketches do. But in a fresh running gag Jim Zulevic plays a smarmy make-out artist who treats the audience like his date, finally stripping down to signal the postcoital intimacy he's achieved.

True, there are some soft focuses, easy touches, and brand humor here: masochistically loyal Cubs fans, Dawn Clark Netsch as pool shark, Michael Jordan's fielding. But something like "Love at First Sight" is a laugh symphony: a mousy spinster previews her video dates, a parade of DOA losers played with quick-change dexterity, seemingly re-creating every love fiasco in the book. Here the lure is character-driven comedy, and the results are whimsical scenes in which everyone looks good. "Decent Proposal" examines two couples negotiating touchingly different marriage proposals: one, the clumsy couple, exchange a pop-top ring, while the other are their emotionally adept friends. This richly textured tale changes with each character.

Every Second City show should generate a future classic, and in this one it's "Suburban on the Rocks," an inspired rip-off of the movie Child's Play. Here the child finds an ugly ally in her doll, a constantly growing and avenging toy; whether it's urging the child to use her repressed memories of abuse to sue her parents or just snapping necks, this monster poppet incarnates renegade victimhood.

Providing strong musical support, Mark Levenson's songs include a Guys and Dolls-style send-up of casino gambling, a semi-idealistic ballad about changing the world tomorrow, and an animal-rights anthem, sung with deadpan dryness, attacking the cruelties of cooking chicken on a rotisserie. (Oddly, the same style of cooking is praised in Second City's mainstage show in a tribute to Boston chicken.)

One improv segment is the source of most of the satire--dressed as pothole inspectors, the cast riff on current events, while in the improvised "Yes, and . . . " the audience suggests a food (Fiddle Faddle) and game (Twister) for a stuffy soiree. Happily, the Second Citizens turned this dross into improv gold.

No ensemble member gets the short end of the comedy shtick, and several run ahead of the yuks and land on their feet. Pat Finn's kid-vid host Captain Brewski, who guides the little ones through the wonderful world of booze, is wickedly plausible, and Renee Albert's gawky video dater, a cesspool of hotly denied horniness and fatal attraction, is hilariously real.

JACKED: A VIRTUAL LOVE STORY

Upright Citizens Brigade
at ImprovOlympic Theater

Steeped in the familiar paranoia of a technocratic dystopia, Upright Citizens Brigade's Jacked: A Virtual Love Story is a loose comedy drama set in the 21st century. The conceit is that the audience is attending an orientation program for employees of the megamonstrous MEDCOM Corporation where a disgraced MEDCOM virtual-reality programmer, Jack Bayly, is held up as a cautionary example of the pitfalls of trying to create life using virtual reality.

In a world where real life is pillaged for sound bites and computer bytes, Jack's job at DAS ("Dead Actor Simulation") is to retrieve dead actors like Orson Welles and Katharine Hepburn and distort their celluloid essences to fit the omnisexual tastes of his time. But Jack also has his own sexual quest--to use the "cybergrid" to clone his bisexual radical-feminist girlfriend Liz, who left him to pursue a politically correct mission to the moon. Penetrating the company's surveillance system that monitors his every moment, macho control freak Jack accesses his taped past in order to construct a more pliable Liz than the real one was; at the same time the MEDCOM honchos are trying to thwart Jack's Frankensteinian activities.

Created through improvisations by ImprovOlympic performers, Jacked conjures up an era in which citizens demand life's excitement without the risk, and holograms and virtual reality simulate sex so easily that a tinkerer like Jack can replicate a woman from 3-D memories. But unfortunately the script seldom escapes its improv origins, and the story never takes off. Alternately ingenious and tedious, the scattershot plot finally succumbs to self-referential jargon, lame jokes, padded exposition that doesn't pay off, and a clutter of distracting characters (though Joel Jeske's android bartender could have been a contender). Mary Helffrich and Matt Besser's staging is equally messy, bogging down in a tiresome alternation between Jack's current life and flashbacks from his "Memorak" cyberdeck.

At least we get no Dead Actor Simulation here. Ian Roberts's sexy, muscular Jack seethes with a kind of horny hubris, his testosterone-driven misogyny a hot contrast to Doreen Calderon's cool, composed Liz. As the manipulative orientation supervisor, Greg Alf narrates with paternalistic officiousness.

Though this show cries out for special effects, what we see is so nonfuturistic--even the black-light fantasy sequences--that Jacked never seems far from a radio play with costumes. The program, however, is a clever takeoff on corporate training manuals, perfectly cloning the kind of cyberspeak that makes the jaw drop and the eyes glaze over.

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