Riverants | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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RIVERANTS, Second City E.T.C. The material is as vacuous as ever, but thanks to Mick Napier's direction and Jeff Richmond's music, the presentation of RiverAnts is much more stylish than the usual classroom exercises that occupy the E.T.C. space. Even in an antique like the old spouse-swap sketch ("We're not swingers," says the square housewife, employing a slang term not heard since the Johnson administration), the pacing is as sharp and the delivery as confident as if the gags were minted yesterday. Ditto for the scene in which a pair of unstereotypical lesbians must prove their sexual orientation in order to receive health benefits from an employer.

Other characters are never developed--the fast-food drone too bright for her station, for example, or the shipwreck survivor who refuses to comfort a victim's widow (the former played by Horacio Sanz, who continues to listen only to his own voices in a genre reliant on ensemble work). But the disaster is depicted in a series of snappy tableaux, the drone's questions are intriguing, and the transitions from one topic to the next are sufficiently coherent to hold our attention most of the time. When they're not, Richmond's slick sound design and hair-trigger piano can be counted on to bring us back (credit this veteran musical parodist as well for the success of the cast's two astonishingly intricate improvised songs). There's not much to chew on once RiverAnts is over, but Napier and Richmond make it a toothsome, empty-calorie couple of hours.

--Mary Shen Barnidge

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