By Sean Ely, @theseanwow
12:00 AM CDT, June 24, 2014
Review: 'Apes of Wrath'
Rating: !!! (out of 4)
Go: Various showtimes Tuesday through Sunday, June 26 through August at The Second City e.t.c. stage, 1616 N. Wells St.
Tickets: $23-$48. 312-337-3992; secondcity.com
We're irrelevant. You. Me. These words. Every Facebook status you have ever written. All of it. Our lifespans are so microscopic in the grand scheme of the universe that grumbling about an unexpected stop on the CTA should spark you to laugh in your own face.
Oh, I'm sorry. Does this sound way too preachy? Sententious? Self-righteous? Is this more of a cult-like column than a review of The Second City e.t.c.'s 38th Revue "Apes of Wrath" that debuts at 8 p.m. June 26?
After seeing director Jen Ellison's show Saturday evening, it's mesmerizing how fluidly sketch comedy leaked its way into this opinionated theme. But honestly, is the message incorrect? Not at all.
Our primal instincts will forever reign superior to everything else. And as this new show boasts, when the going gets tough in life, our response resembles much "more simian behavior" than anything else. The Second City has done it again, chunking together hysterical, yet every so often swing-and-a-miss-like references from pop culture, ancient history, the solar system and even BuzzFeed's attempt at "journalism." Because who doesn't want 15 Ryan Gosling reactions to this column in GIF image format? That's Pulitzer-worthy content right there.
Carisa Barreca, Brooke Breit and Punam Patel return to The Second City e.t.c. stage once again (finishing "A Clown Car Named Desire" together), joining new castmates Eddie Mujica, Asher Perlman and Tim Ryder.
The two-hour show builds momentum throughout the evening, constantly keeping its audience guessing. There's Barreca's Disney princess-esque voice corrupted by a deep, darkened core. Tween chess-letes preparing for a heated match administered by a hunched, snot-nosed character so perfectly humanized by Breit. And a meth head tweaking so hard you might mistake him for a wacky-waving inflatable tube man outside a car dealership. These scenes were crafted with care and a full understanding of what the crowd would laugh about.
But without a doubt the stealer of the show? Mujica's impeccable range of talent. The Florida native can switch from playing a rickety yet life-like robot houseboy afraid of love to a fluent Spanish-speaking immigrant just minutes away from taking his citizenship test who spends that time "studying" with the audience.
I even had to rub my eyes a few times to decipher if it was indeed Mujica in a specific character. He is the type of actor you watch for just a few minutes and think to yourself, "He's going somewhere. This is a stepping stone to the next thing."
Mujica's overaccentuated walk, head turns and slow blinking as a robot named "Iverson" (via the company he was made by) make the price of one ticket worth it alone. But luckily, there are dozens more to hang your hat on, too:a personified Pluto sharing its thoughts now that it's no longer a planet, a woman who refuses to get into a lifeboat because she would rather dance as the Titanic is sinking and a business owner giving a pitch on sons pledging a sexual purity promise to their mothers.
While a live show always needs its fair share of peaks and valleys, a few sketches fell far lower than I anticipated. Think scenes that felt "Saturday Night Live"-long, when you're hoping the lights will dim and the cast will move onto the next thing. A literal beekeeper so obsessed with his little friends that he actually houses them in his home and an office full of co-workers terrified of being fired are two scenes that felt fresh in concept but fell flat in script and implementation. And on Saturday night, a couple improvised scenes didn't quite land, with audience members sitting still with smiles just waiting for a punchline that never came.
The ridiculousness bounces off the walls all evening but aligns neatly by the end. In true Second City fashion, the cast tosses a cherry on top just before you walk out the door, bringing the "insignificant" theme full circle.
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