REVIEW: Holiday in the Heights Review (Second City)

  
  

Nobody’s spared in this laugh-out-loud holiday revue

  
  

Holiday in Heights cast - Second City - Metropolis Arts

   
Second City and Metropolis Performing Arts Centre presents
   
Holiday in the Heights Review
  
By various Second City ensemble members
at
Metropolis Theatre , Arlington Heights (map)
through Dec 30  |  tickets: $30-$35  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Besides the usual caroling, tree-trimming and pigging-out on comfort food, ‘tis also the season for slogging through overcrowded malls, meeting new in-laws, sending out a year’s worth of cards, and driving cross-country with whiny kids.

But at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, ‘tis also the season for Holiday in the Heights, Second City’s sketch comedy and improv holiday show. The ensemble includes Edgar Blackmon, Ross Bryant, Angela Dawe, Derek Shipman and Natalie Sullivan.

SC_Holiday_05As with most Second City reviews, Holiday in the Heights opens with a musical number. Though a bit difficult to hear, it’s quite catchy and entertaining, with the ensemble assuring us that “Christmas makes everything ok.” 

Following this ditty, the ensemble moves into a variety of sketches with various ensemble members covering topics like meeting your girlfriend’s Jewish parents, rewritten Christmas stories with political twists, visiting the in-laws you dislike, et.al.

Each ensemble member brings something unique to the stage and they all work together as a group to create hilarious parodies of holiday merriment. The two stand out performances of Act 1 include an improvised, never-been-heard Christmas story and a GPS-directed car ride.

The improvised Christmas story is based off audience participation, lending a title to the yet-to-be-created story. From there each ensemble member tells a bit of the story, building on what the others have said. Watching the ensemble instantaneously create a random story and having to continue to build on it and expand the narrative is both hilarious and amazing to watch. It’s clear that the ensemble has talent for thinking on their feet.

The GPS car ride skit tells the story of a couple driving to visit her in-laws for the holidays. The couple discusses the differences in their family’s traditions – yoga and sharing time vs. watching football and not talking to each other – and through it the GPS not only directs their route, but begins to direct their lives in hilarious and insulting ways. The great thing about this skit is that it’s relevant to the world today and also very clever and witty.

SC_Holiday_04For all that is funny about the first act, I do wish it had provided a little more to the funny bone. That being said, the second act picks up the pace and funny factor. Act 2 flows smoother and also delivers a wider variety of reasons to let out a laugh.

The highlight sketch of Act 2 is a family reading their holiday newsletter Mad Lib style, allowing audience members to fill in words with whatever they can think of. Between the audience’s word choices and the family’s story, I was laughing so hard my abs started to ache. The ensemble plays off the audience participation well and cleverly incorporates their choices into the story.

Some sketches, although entertaining, do have the potential to offend when based on politics, religion and culture. But of course this is par for the course for Second City.

Note: This show contains more than enough adult content and language to make your holiday a bawdy one. Enjoy!

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

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Holiday in the Heights plays at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, through December 31. Tickets cost $29.50 or $34.50 for stage table seats and can be purchased by calling 847-577-2121.

        
        

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REVIEW: Swear Jar (The Annoyance Theatre)

 

Veteran sketch director can’t save “Swear Jar”

 
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Annoyance Theatre presents
 
Swear Jar
 
Directed by Mick Napier
Musical direction by
Lisa McQueen
Annoyance Theatre, 4830 N. Broadway (map)
through May 1st   (more info | tickets$15)

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Annoyance Theatre‘s founder and artistic director Mick Napier has never once directed a sketch show for his own company in its 22-year history. It’s not that he doesn’t have experience in the medium. In fact, Napier’s a bit of a Chicago comedy legend, having directed more than 15 Second City revues and working with the likes of Stephen Colbert and Amy Sedaris.

mick-napier Swear Jar is Napier’s debut sketch revue for his own theatre. And although it definitely embraces the Annoyance aesthetic—which can be described as subversive, in-your-face, punk rock comedy—it never gains the momentum it needs to be a truly good sketch show.

It’s not that there aren’t some shining moments of hilarity. A scene where an alter boy (Chris Witaske) makes a lustful pass at a kind-hearted priest (Andrew Peyton) inverts the played out power dynamic with great success. Another scene (once again starring Witaske opposite straight man Peyton) depicts a desperate suit salesman quickly crumbling before an unsuspecting customer. Witaske’s solid acting skills and captivating stage presence make the demented sketch one of the best in the show.

The musical sketches, save for the closer which is a painfully unfunny and poorly executed piece about fast food, are big winners as well, thanks in part to musical director Lisa McQueen’s strong songwriting abilities. In particular, Vanessa Bayer’s rap about battling Leukemia is a perfect blend of catharsis and comedy.

Like a good stand-up act, a sketch show is only going to work if you can maintain momentum. One dip in the running order is acceptable, but when you have a string of sketches that just aren’t funny, then it’s difficult to keep the audience’s attention, even if the humor is meant to be somewhat shocking.

This was the case for many bits that may have started strong but then, with no real conclusion, just floundered and died on stage. A sketch about a man (Brian Wilson) who gets the bright idea to sit on the car’s gearshift plays out in full just as I describe it. A woman’s-only afternoon tea starts funny as the ladies passive aggressively take pot shots at each other’s failing relationships. It even gets to a second beat as one woman is berated by the hostess’s husband for spilling her drink on the floor. And just as you’re waiting for the final punch of the sketch, it awkwardly and abruptly ends.

showposter Swear Jar would be a much funnier show if it was consistent. There are just too many bumps throughout the revue. Many of the performers seem fairly green to the stage, having difficulty projecting their voices beyond the front two rows. (Witaske and Bayer, however, do stand out as consistently strong players.) The writing, too, is all over the place, often trying harder to shock than to elicit laughter. Although there is something to be said about shocking an audience, contemporary culture has raised the bar on what passes for taboo to a point that this sketch show just doesn’t hit, save for a sketch about a girl with a heavy flow.

With directing Swear Jar, Napier doesn’t abandon the Second City sketch format that inserts short “blackout” pieces between longer sketches, but he does tweak it. There is an outpouring of short, 30-second sketches near the end of the show, which helps bring up the energy at the end. But overall, the revue drags when the comedy just isn’t there, and at other times, the slew of short pieces can feel frantic and choppy. The show could also be trimmed down by 30 minutes. With an intermission, the 10 p.m. revue didn’t end until midnight.

Swear Jar just never hits its stride. Instead it limps across the finish line. There are some great moments and solid performances here and there, but the bulk of the revue feels directionless, which is a shame when you have the talent of Napier in the director’s chair.

 
Rating: ★★
 

RUN: Previews | March 13 and 20 | 10:00 PM | $10  //  Saturday | March 27 – May 1 | 10:00 PM | $15

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