With Donald Trump moving into the White House and winter gripping Chicago for another two months, it’s time to haul our depressed, pallid selves over to Wells Street for The Second City e.t.c.’s FANTASTIC SUPER GREAT NATION NUMERO UNO. The show’s hijinks make for a much-needed mood massage.
FANTASTIC SUPER GREAT NATION NUMERO UNO means big funnies
The Second City e.t.c.’s cast is a youthful mix of personalities, ethnicities and body types that give 3-D life to our best and worst fantasies. The four women and three men include Sayjal Joshi, Katie Klein, Andrew Knox, Alan Linic, Julie Marchiano, Jasbir Singh Vazquez and Tien Tran. Big funnies come out of their mouths but what they do with the rest of themselves is even bigger. FANTASTIC SUPER GREAT NATION NUMERO UNO features ordinary people writ large.
Lassos, whips and surgical boots
As we hunch at our tables, trying not to knock over beer glasses and guacamole platters, the actors onstage push Second City’s high bar for precise physical humor a little higher. Striving to be the manliest cowboys in the West, the cast’s males expertly wield imaginary whips and lassos. Later, playing a man who injured both legs, Andrew Knox lumbers around in huge surgical boots with chaplinesque skill. The performances are so adept, it makes us realize that we are not all created equal: Only one among thousands in those sixth grade drama classes has the right stuff to mime for a living.
Second City's timeless and topical mix
Consistently clever, if not cutting edge, The Second City e.t.c.’s 41st revue hews close to the familiar mix of topical and timeless comedy. When a child announces that she’ll donate her Tooth Fairy money to save the Polar bears, her father responds that she’s just too old “to still believe in climate change.” Offering a glimpse of life without contraception coverage, female cast members don massive mustaches as the Beluga Brothers and hawk their blowout birth control sale.
A notable sketch in the timeless category involves a group of teachers giving superlatives to each other – the most likely to get a DUI, to steal school supplies, to smell like old hot dog water. Another is set in a movie theatre in which a couple knowingly sits in other patrons’ reserved seats, shifting every time the rightful occupants show up to displace them.
Audience up to the job
Integrating suggestions in true Second City tradition, both cast and audience were up to the job. In a View-like talk show sketch, the host takes questions from the crowd for her novelist guest; and audience members responded with questions that were both appropriate and funny. When Vazquez, playing a Latino in a food court, is challenged by immigration officers, he invites a Spanish-speaker in the audience to serve as his interpreter. The brave volunteer who stepped up was a worthy scene partner.
Frantic first act
FANTASTIC SUPER GREAT NATION NUMERO UNO’s first act could use some fine tuning. The frantic 50 minutes has everyone working at full, bug-eyed capacity and specific moments lose their nuance. The second act comes as a relief, the cast varying its pace as it prods our troubled national and personal souls.
It’s always satisfying to read cast bios that are full of in-house Second City credits – the Training Center, the Touring Company, the cruise ship Theatricals. These performers have come up through the ranks, earning their cane chairs and audience suggestions. Chicago doesn’t have much to be proud of these days so let us give thanks for The Second City’s continuing bounty of physical energy and verbal quips.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.
Now through April 1
Thursday at 8:00 pm
Friday & Saturday at 8:00 & 11:00 pm
Sunday at 7:00 pm
The Second City e.t.c.
1618 N. Wells St.
$19 – 36
Photos by Todd Rosenberg
About the Author
Susan Lieberman is a playwright, journalist and script consultant who commits most of her waking hours to Chicago theatre. Her Jeff-winning play Arrangement for Two Violas will be published by Chicago Dramaworks in spring 2017.