Friday, December 07, 2018

Lackluster Revue: Second City's 'Algorithm Nation, or The Static Quo' Fails to Pack Much Punch -- Chicago Theater / Comedy Review

Sketch Comedy Review

Algorithm Nation or, The Static Quo
107th Mainstage Revue
The Second City, Chicago
Open Run

It's not usually my style, but I think I'll cut right to the chase.

I didn't much like the Second City's new mainstage revue, titled--curiously--Algorithm Nation or, The Static Quo.

Failing to understand, or appreciate, the repeated motif of algorithms controlling our lives, I didn't find the show particularly funny, insightful, illuminating or inspired.

I say this with alliteration but no glee, as I have great regard for Second City's history, legacy and veneration.

I am also greatly appreciative of being invited to see & review the 107th Mainstage Revue on its opening night.

The overall experience was first-rate, and locals and tourists should keep attending Second City on a somewhat regular basis. A fun night isn't just about LOL moments or thought-provoking skits.

But I'm simply reviewing the show, and while I have great admiration for the talents and personas of the writers and performers--Ryan Asher, Tyler Davis, Jeffrey Murdoch, Emma Pope, Nate Varrone, Kimberly Michelle Vaughn--I just found much of the material presented over two hours to be rather lackluster.

Asher, Davis, Murdoch and Vaughn were in the 106th Mainstage Revue, which I found a good bit better, though not as strong as Second City e.t.c.'s most recent revue or the still-running, all-female She The People.

So I know the comedic gifts of the Algorithm Nation cast are considerable, and beyond merely appreciating their efforts, there were some genuinely nice ideas.

I don't want to give away much, especially the best routines, but Murdoch, Varrone, Asher and Pope were part of a sketch in which two longstanding local TV personalities look back on their career, only to cringe at what was once deemed acceptable (but shouldn't have been).

Davis and Williams repeatedly paired up well, once as an African-American couple visiting "woke" white liberal neighbors (Asher & Varrone), and later as a father and young daughter, as the latter experiences hardships in an otherwise all-white school.

Certainly, these two skits broached on racism, and a couple others referenced President Trump, but I don't think anything hit hard enough regarding contemporary realities.

As we walked back to the train, I said to my friend--who also was disappointed by the show--that it felt as if some Second City bigwigs had mandated to tread lightly on Trump material, for fear of offending and/or alienating those who support him.

In a way this is understandable, as both blue and red patrons equal green, but comedy without chutzpah--especially amid these times--just feels flaccid.

Or, perhaps, obvious targets are considered too obvious, and while I would perceive such a seemingly astute cast could insightfully broach the mistreatment of blacks, women, immigrants, Muslims, etc., etc., etc., maybe such hot-topicality is considered taboo.

But even when the sextet onstage--all dressed in black--did reference gun violence and children being thrown into cages, it came off somewhat rote.

And unfunny.

Truly the best part of Algorithm Nation, or The Static Quo came when an audience member named Andrew was brought onstage.

His rapport, particularly with Varrone was charming, and suggests that a bit more crowd interaction might do this revue good.

If not actually adding Andrew on a permanent basis.

As noted above, going to Second City is always a delight, even just in seeing pictures of the famous alumni. And it's probably true that people who are now considered all-time pillars of comedy were in revues that missed the mark, as this one did.

Undeniably, making people laugh isn't easy, especially when coupled with trying to provide insights into a crazy world.

In pulling its punches in regards to the latter, the 107th Mainstage Revue of Second City Chicago didn't hit hard enough in attempting the former.

Or, in other words, despite estimable work by talented comedians, something about the algorithm just wasn't right. 

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