For anyone who imagined this would be a trip to watch Second City get stoned, or perhaps made a habit of doing so in the 1960s or 1970s, the cast of the new show at Etc Stage has a sweet, retro treat.
“A mushroom cloud has been sent into the ventilation system,” they announce before going into psychedelic mode. “Didn’t you read the PDF file that came with your tickets?”
It’s funny and gritty, like so much else in the new revue: “Oh, the Places You’ll Shine!” It’s an unusually weird, goofy, yet warmly centered show that brings to mind all the different trends I’ve seen over the 30 years I’ve been examining each revision on Wells Street.
When alum Stephen Colbert and British satirist John Oliver first became famous, every member of the cast could be seen wearing a neat little tie and a clean white shirt.
Not so much here. There were some nice throwbacks to the classic revues of the 1990s; Including a moving mother-daughter sketch performed by Meghan Babbe and Leila Gorstein, they were both their own women but doing things in this show that will remind you of classic Tina Fey. and Rachel Dratch routines.
Gorstein is a big new talent for me (it’s directed by Jeff Griggs), but this is a cast of stars mostly from the comic factory’s touring companies, well chosen for their ability to complement each other stylistically.
Tall and angular, Gorstein delights in contorting herself with her repertoire of right angles, but her work also brings with it the rhetorical flurry of a Sarah Silverman-like standup. Many of the Second City performers are very adept at either physical comedy or the kind of verbiage that could also work behind a “Weekend Update” desk. Gorstein, who can keep the audience confused or otherwise focused by simply raising one eyebrow, can do both. He’s vulnerable on stage, too, a crucial trait in comedy and one that’s been in short supply here in recent years.
Local content has also been lacking lately, and this show redresses that balance. There’s a takedown of crime tours plying through Chicago with fake Tommy guns and Italian attire, a showcase for the beautifully sarcastic Claudia Martinez, some fun at the expense of the Lincoln Park Zoo, and even villainy that continues after hours at the Jewel. The jewelry sketch specifically showcases the detailed physical work of Tim Metzler, who has worked hard on the muscular dynamics of pushing a shopping cart while the world goes crazy.
The relationship with the audience, which for some time had come to be seen as a kind of enemy here, was also repaired. Not in this show. People got so excited that they started doing things that were not asked of them: I’m not talking about suppressing or undermining, I’m talking about some kind of organic fusion here with artists I haven’t seen in a long time. Frankly, seeing artists like Martinez, Jordan Savusa, and the crazy Brittani Yawn frequently smile at their customers and enjoy a Mary from Maine, or whoever, warmed the old heartstrings.
Everyone had a great time and the applause from real people was quite enthusiastic. I think the series uses a bit too much recorded audio, which gets in the way at times, and I was annoyed when the drama played gambling after a man in the audience shouted his country was Vietnam. “We’re not touching that,” came the reply, which was a funny line, but the man next to me still looked disappointed. He had arrived and expected to have some fun at his own expense. This kind of challenge, which has long been a hallmark of this company but is now frightening for artists, still needs work.
Elsewhere, you encounter several windows into similarly moral millennial angst.
Is it okay to sleep with someone you don’t align with politically is the subject of a funny sketch. One solution suggested by Metzker’s master of convenient choices is to act as if you were in an Uber and “request a quiet ride.”
No mushrooms required.
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Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.
Review: “Oh, the Places You Will Shine” (3.5 stars)
When: Turn on run
Where: Second City at Piper’s Alley etc., 230 W. North Ave.
Working time: 2 hours
Tickets: $39-$59 at 312-337-3992 and www.secondcity.com