Sunday, April 08, 2018

A Fine Revue: Second City e.t.c.'s 'Gaslight District' Finds Laughter in Truth, and Vice-Versa -- Chicago Comedy/Theater Review

Sketch Comedy Review

Gaslight District
The Second City e.t.c. 42nd Revue
Open Run

After it had been about 10 years since I had seen anything at The Second City, the new revue under their "e.t.c." moniker marked my third visit to Chicago's hallowed self-producing comedy venue in the past 6 months.

I had previously seen and reviewed the mainstage revue, Dream Freaks Fall From Space, and an all-woman sketch show, She the People, both of which are still running. (Hyperlinks are to my reviews.)

Both those shows were enjoyable, and the obvious effort quite estimable, even if neither blew me away.

So it is with no disrespect to those two shows, their casts, writers and crews, that I say I found The Second City e.t.c.'s Gaslight District the best of the three.

As best I could ascertain, the six performer/writers in Gaslight District--Emily Fightmaster, Sayjal Joshi, Katie Kershaw, Andrew Knox, Alan Linic, Jasbir Singh Vasquez--have been as thoroughly trained and practiced as those in the mainstage revue.

And except for a vague suggestion that e.t.c. tends to be a bit edgier than mainstage, I couldn't determine anything that particularly earmarks this troupe/show vs. others. 

Although there was a little bit more improv incorporated than I recall from Dream Freaks... or She the People, this too was mainly a scripted, sketch comedy show that ran through numerous short vignettes, including some musical ones.

Coincidentally, within the past month, I had watched for the first time the 1944 Ingrid Bergman film, Gaslight, which saw her character's husband manipulating her into believing she was delusional.

This had given rise to the term "gaslighting," which Wikipedia describes as:

"A form of psychological abuse in which the victim is gradually manipulated into doubting his or her own sanity."

Without knowing why else this Gaslight District revue was so titled--some cities have a so-dubbed district, but not Chicago to my awareness--I'm not suggesting there was any overt connection to Gaslight or gaslighting.

But with several references to a certain current president and (indirectly) his beguiling of a sizable portion of the masses, plus the frequent use of an imagined "truth zone" onstage, well, it kind of fits.

Even more so than with most theatrical reviews, I feel I should be circumspect about the material, as surprise is often part of the LOL pleasure.

Yes, there are a few gags about Trump--and they work well--but some of the best skits were not only non-political, they were weirdly (in a good way) not very topical.

I found a piece about how a certain country has overtaken another to become the world's most despised to be rather inspired, and a skit spoofing a men's hair salon chain takes a wonderful left turn, led by Fightmaster and Knox.

Terrific too is a piece about an adult chaperone messed with by his charge of high schoolers during a hotel stay, and a musical ode is sung to a surprising but quite relevant subject.

All six cast members are excellent, with Linic, Kershaw and Joshi clearly being talented pros.

For his musicality, sly facial expressions and multi-linguistic, I found Vasquez to be a particular standout, and would have liked to have seen him do even a bit more in Gaslight District.

A teacher named Kate from Wisconsin was brought onstage from the audience for some improv bits, and also acclimated rather well.

That a couple of skits--including one that has Vasquez playing a man volunteering to be deported by ICE, with Joshi the agency newbie handling his case--wind up more poignant, even maddening, than funny, only adds to the adroitness of Gaslight District.

I'm not sure if I'll ever become a regular at Second City, and it'll obviously take awhile for new shows to hit their boards.

But even more than before, I can see why the venue is so venerated, and with the 42nd e.t.c. revue daring to hit a bit harder, it's nice to know such laughter can be found in truth.

And the other way around.

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