July 20, 2009

Working at the Second City

Full Disclosure: Complimentary tickets and a press kit - including photos - were provided for this blog post. Thanks!

As everyone knows, I really enjoy improv comedy both as viewer and participant. (And never, ever ask me about Pepe. You honestly don't want to know) So when I was invited to the premiere of Second City ETC's production of Studs Terkel's Not Working, I immediately jumped at the chance. Of course, it was not like I had avoided attending at all this year.

(Coincidentally, if you want more information about Studs Terkel, you might as well check out the web site. Or read his book Working - it's a classic piece of literature, and it's also where the troupe got their title. There's even a graphic novel version! I'm here to help you read more about it)

But back to the show - one of the great advantages of Second City's ETC theater is that it's smaller, a little more intimate, and (at least, in my perception) a little more audience-friendly. Several sketches included a much greater audience participation component, and I rather like that. (Although my tendency is to shout more mundane suggestions like "typewriter" than, say, "dog-eared copy of The Beautiful And Damned with a bunch of notes written on page 67"). Not Working really builds on this - from the opening song (which goes from warning people to turn off cell phones to a more political turn) to the closer (which actually recaps an initial audience interaction, reminding us that going to Cubs games will help the recession), it's a potent reminder of the power of live performance.

Highlights? Well, it's hard to spoil a revue, especially an improv show, but I'd rather not do that. However, the cast - Christina Anthony, Amanda Blake Davis, Tom Flanigan, Timothy Edward Mason, Beth Melewski and Andy St. Clair - have assembled a strong, tight show with a decidedly Chicago-centric flair. (But not so much that out-of-towners won't get it). Sketches involve a variety of situations, dealing with the personal and political, including:
  • A couple return from a date, and one is rather overeager;
  • An open display of presidents, where you'll learn more about William Henry Harrison than any human being should;
  • A bachelor party...with a twist;
  • A conversation about a word that should be removed;
  • Two men having a conversation on an airplane; and
  • A hard-boiled detective story.
It would be easy to automatically give this a pass - after all, it's Second City. However, the great thing about Studs Terkel's Not Working...is that every laugh is earned, and the cast truly has done some splendid work. Well worth your time and money.

(Production photos by Bob Knuth)

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