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Woktoberfest!

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Woktoberfest!, Stir-Friday Night!, at the Chicago Cultural Center. The last time I caught this Asian-American sketch-comedy troupe, nearly two years ago, the show was made up of safe, not particularly funny, not particularly well performed material, most of it inspired by TV.

This time around, their material is so sharp, intelligent, and wickedly funny I almost didn't recognize them. Gone are the long, awkward pauses between sketches. Under the direction of Brian Posen, these guys segue from one blackout to another with the speed and grace of Second City. Gone is the troupe's eager neediness to get a laugh each and every time. Several of the more engaging pieces--such as a dreamlike sketch in which Rasika Mathur plays an Indian princess riding an elephant--have no punch line at all but are very entertaining.

Gone is the troupe's former dependence on the idiot box. Instead they've packed the show with material drawn from real-life anxieties and frustrations. One song pokes fun at the stereotype that all Asians are perfectionists, and a sketch explores the tendency of young Asian-Americans to model their behavior on that of African-Americans. In one timely piece, Ranjit Souri laments that some think he's black, others that he's Arab--everything but what he is, Indian. And Jennifer Liu, dressed in a Japanese schoolgirl uniform, tells the charming, informative story of how she came to be five-eighths Chinese and three-eighths Japanese.

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