REVIEW: Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies (Second City)

Spoiler Alert: It’s Good.

 

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Second City presents
  
Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies
   
directed by Matt Hovde
at
Second City, 1616 N. Wells (map)
through October 31st  |  tickets: $22-$27   |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

When I see a Second City revue, I watch it through two different lenses.

The first is the comedian. I’m a former Second City student, and I’ve done my share of stand-up, sketch and improv comedy around the city. So I can see the gears in motion as the actors are on stage. I know what reads as hokey, and I can spot a pot shot. But I can also identify what improv guru Del Close termed “truth in comedy,” that is the genuineness behind the joke.

SPOILER_ALERT_PR_003_Knuth The other filter is the audience member. There’s nothing less funny than deconstructing a joke, so I have to allow myself to sit back, pull the stick from out of my butt and enjoy the show. Besides, Second City gets a wide spectrum of attendees, from talent scouts looking for the next star to Schaumburgers.

Too hokey and you’ll trip my comedian sensor. Too self-aware and you’ll trip my audience sensor. Fortunately, Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies strikes a near perfect harmony.

At the show’s opening, a red button sits on stage. A push from a brave audience member gets things going. We witness a human machine and are told through voice over that at the end of the show everybody dies. What ensues is a well-staged and masterfully executed montage of brief scenes depicting actions and consequences that result in various people’s deaths.

We then go into sketch mode. It’s a father/son scene. The son (the expressive Tim Robinson) is getting cold feet at his wedding. His dad (Tim Mason) attempts to convince him of the wonders of marriage, specifically the benefit of being able to use your wife’s brain to remember things you can’t. The sketch relies a little too much on stereotypical representations of Neanderthal men, but it has its moments.

Next there’s an ensemble song about people who skim the news, illustrating that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Later, there’s a cute bit about a matching sweatpants-wearing couple (Robinson and Shelly Gossman) who are an embarrassment to their Michael Jackson-loving daughter (Emily Wilson).

The best sketch of the bunch is a bit where one employee (Robinson) hems and haws when breaking the bad news that his co-worker (Gossman) is being laid off. The sketch works because it’s simple—just two talking heads—that are sharing a real genuine connection. Also, Robinson’s antics and inflections are so hilarious that he even cracks himself up.

 

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Second City sketch revues by their nature must be fast-paced. The moment the energy drops in the room, you risk losing your audience. Director Matt Hovde manages to keep the show flowing even in scenes that stew a bit more, such as the heavier sketch about a woman (Grossman) who comes to terms with being an asshole after berating a man (Mason) who just lost his son.

The ensemble works well together, and there certainly are some standouts. It’s no surprise that Gossman was recently tapped to head East and write for “Saturday Night Live”. I wouldn’t be surprised if Robinson is on deck.

The one major criticism I have for the show is its antiquated reliance on racial jokes. Nearly every sketch with Edgar Blackmon (who was filling in for cast regular Sam Richardson) relied in part on the fact that he is black. True, nobody is colorblind when it comes to race. It’s an important and unavoidable element of our society. But when you beat it into the ground with every sketch with a black actor, you start feeling a bit uneasy—especially when the audience is almost entirely white.

Overall, whether you come from the entertainment industry or from Indiana, you’ll walk away laughing from Spoiler Alert.

    
    
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

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Five last-minute gifts for your Chicago theater-loving friends

Five last-minute gifts for your Chicago theater-loving friends

By Leah A. Zeldes

Still wracking your brain for the perfect gift? Here are a few last minute ideas for the local theater fans on your list.

Theater tour tickets

Take your friends on a tour of a treasure of Chicago’s Theatre District. Modestly priced backstage tours highlight the beautiful architecture and rich performance history of the Loop’s gorgeous historic theaters. Check out the Chicago Theatre Marquee Tour, $12; Auditorium Theatre Tour, $10; and the Broadway in Chicago Venue Tours (each BIC tour covers two theaters from among the Oriental Theatre, the Cadillac Palace and the Bank of America Theatre), $10. If you want to be lavish, throw in a gift card for a post-tour meal at Petterino’s in the Theatre District.

Theater passes

The League of Chicago Theatres’ Play Money is the perfect one- size-fits-all gift. These $25 certificates are redeemable at more than 75 Chicagoland theaters for up to a year, so recipients can choose the play and performance that suits them best. A copy of the Chicagoplays Theater Guide is included. Or, for a versatile gift to a family or a theater-loving friend, a $95 Theatre Building Chicago Pass offers five tickets to any shows at the Lakeview theater complex in the coming year: five admissions at once, one at a time, or in any combination the recipient prefers.

Playwriting classes

Sign the budding dramatist on your list up for instruction from seasoned playwrights at the award-winning Chicago Dramatists or a musical workshop at Theatre Building Chicago. Of course, you’ll have to promise to attend any resulting performances.

Chicago theater books

With express shipping, there’s still time to get copies of these books on the fascinating history of Chicago’s theater scene: A Theater of Our Own: A History and a Memoir of 1,001 Nights in Chicago by longtime Chicago Tribune critic Richard Christiansen; Steppenwolf: Steppenwolf Theatre Company : Twenty-Five Years of an Actor’s Theater, famed photographer Victor Skrebneski‘s book featuring production highlights and portraits of Steppenwolf’s ensemble; and The Second City: Backstage at the World’s Greatest Comedy Theater — one of the early directors at the Second City, Sheldon Patinkin traces the origins of Second City back to 1955 in this book with two audio CDs.

Theater toys

For the theater buff who has everything, how about a Shakespeare action figure, complete with removable book and quill pen? Or a set of playing cards each featuring an insulting remark from The Bard? Chicago Shakespeare has it covered.