"Fate is coming for you like a Jehovah's Witness," warns Second City's 99th main-stage revue, South Side of Heaven, "and you just can't pretend you're not at home." One-third standard Chicago references, one-third current events, and one-third appeal to the inevitable, this smart show is as tenacious as destiny itself but a lot less annoying, delivering rapid-fire comedy with the company's signature finesse.
In the first sketch, Holly Laurent encounters Sam Richardson's Barack Obama in a dream. The president pegs Laurent as a "pale" Chicagoan, and she admits she didn't vote for him—though she also disliked his predecessor. She's "conservative, not retarded," after all. The point? "Fait accompli," as both characters put it. Obama can't win for winning: he got dealt a shit sandwich when he assumed office, but what's done is done.
The theme comes up a lot. Resigned to her crummy existence, a teacher tells her troubled student that adults get depressed, too—they've just got Klonopin for the panic. A male stripper (Richardson again, in bright pink skivvies) laments his hopeless circumstances before channeling Obama, who delivers an inspirational message. And in another bit, fate is depicted as an evil and relentless chicken, screwing with people's lives.
Elsewhere, Chicago's racial and baseball divides are explored when two white Cubs fans and two black Sox fans sit down to watch a crosstown duel. Though white guilt and abuse of the n-word can be difficult to bring to life comedically, the four men—Edgar Blackmon, Timothy Edward Mason, Tim Robinson, and Richardson—build a nuanced, hilariously awkward situation.
The first Second City show Billy Bungeroth has directed since last year's critically acclaimed E.T.C. revue, The Absolute Best Friggin' Time of Your Life, South Side displays his attention to musical accents and memorably cartoonish transitions. Whether they involve literally sweeping away the n-word after the baseball sketch or mopping up blood following a furniture commercial gone awry, passages from one sketch to the next are not only seamless but often offer their own meta-commentary.
The cast supplies enormous energy and impressive musical chops. Robinson capitalizes on his look of perpetual confusion as Mayor Richard M. Daley and remains goofily endearing even while getting intimate with a burrito. Richardson shows versatility, and Blackmon is an ebullient force who inverts stereotypes with a sly grin. Mason is most memorable as a perverted TSA agent who pleasures himself while viewing travelers' body scans. He then points out how naked we already are on the Internet and cleverly, if creepily, tells audience members their life stories based on Google searches and some preshow snooping.
Outnumbered, the women inhabit their ridiculous characters with reckless abandon. Laurent has some of the best one-liners of the show, including the cosmic question, "Why is it a man can become a father by doing the equivalent of peeing?" Katie Rich's crackpot stage presence is a welcome relief during some of the show's more serious forays into life, death, and the recent misfortunes of Southwest Airlines. As a cigarette-smoking slot machine addict, she's vouchsafed a vision but mistakes God for Lord Voldemort.
The first and second acts close with scenes spoofing a revival meeting. With Blackmon at the helm, the congregation sings inspirational maxims like, "I ain't scared at all, I kicked my fears in the balls." Indeed. Life gets shitty, Chicago will probably stay corrupt, and sooner or later we all end up shooting hoops on the south side of heaven. It's not a great hand, but you may as well laugh it off and go all in.
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