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Evolve or Die

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EVOLVE OR DIE, the Neighbors, at the Chicago Historical Society. Many improv comedy troupes make the mistake of watching too much TV and reading too few newspapers, which makes them too ignorant of the world to create shows worth watching. In trying to avoid this error, the Neighbors fall prey to a much more sophisticated one. Having decided on an ambitious premise--their theme is "survival of the fittest," which they explore using historical figures from the year 1859, the year Darwin published On the Origin of Species--they fail to develop it in a way that's either informative or funny.

It's not enough to have skits starring Karl Marx, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Gregor Mendel. You have to have something to say--something deeper than a TV-inspired sketch in which Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels appear as the Honeymooners's Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton (one of the high points in this dreary show, despite the paucity of laughs). And a running gag about what a loser biologist Alfred Russel Wallace was because his theory of evolution appeared after Darwin's doesn't count. But even if this troupe of improv-trained comedians had come up with some legitimately funny material, I'm not sure it would have survived the cartoonish, ham-fisted performances too many of the cast members deliver.

--Jack Helbig

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