Schadenfreude, at Wing & Groove Theatre, and the acquaintances, at Wing & Groove Theatre. Amidst a bevy of late-night sketch-comedy revues, Schadenfreude's latest offering is refreshing. While other troupes are preoccupied with sex, drugs, and bodily functions, this high-caliber company shows there's more to life to laugh about, presenting an hour-long show that hilariously combines smart satire, cynical observation, and originality.
The evening starts with a sly history lesson on Chicago. From the informative voice-over to the gangster dance number to the MTV-inspired introduction to physicist Enrico Fermi, everything in this scene works. A particularly timely piece transforms the Enron debacle into a rock video: as Def Leppard's "Let's Get Rocked" plays, Kenneth Lay boozes it up at the White House, runs a shell game for stockholders, and gets it on with an Andersen vamp.
The great strength of this show is that Schadenfreude gives its intelligently written sketches fully convincing performances. This isn't a company that labors to get to the next scripted joke; instead the six actors build scenes around the characters. The comedy comes from our recognition of the McDonald's manager, stoned kids trying to score weed, or performance artist giving a serious rendition of the life and times of Mike Ditka. This is laugh-out-loud material that's well worth staying up for.
The Acquaintances' 50-minute sketch-comedy revue precedes Schadenfreude's at the same venue. But though these five recent Second City grads show promise, Schadenfreude's work reveals what a difference experience can make. The Acquaintances did take risks and display creativity in the few scenes they improvised. But while some of their ideas and lines in the sketches are good, their presentation isn't always top-notch: overall the characterizations are weak, and the scenes need tighter focus and stronger momentum. Among their better ideas: the cast of Friends all deal simultaneously with cancer, a man plays on heterosexual guilt to get what he wants, and a child attributes anti-American sentiments to her brother to get him in trouble with mom.