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Comedy Review:

"THANK HEAVEN IT WASN’T 7/11" on The Second City Mainstage

BY LUCIA MAURO

One of the most recognizable truths to come out of The Second City’s 88th mainstage revue, "Thank Heaven It Wasn’t 7/11," is a scene in which U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan conclude they are fighting for our right to 24-hour convenience stores. A separate montage shows a Middle Eastern-costumed character sipping a "Double Big Gulp" (later referred to as a "Fucking Enormo Gulp"). While the commentary references the revue’s title, it also illustrates the self-centered superficialities for which America is both maligned and praised.

But that’s about as far as this uneven sketch comedy, directed by Joshua Funk, pushes the envelope in terms of political criticism during these inconceivably bungling times for our nation. Oddly, the title – which I believe exceeds the boundaries of respect and good taste – is particularly cruel and insensitive to the victims of Sept. 11. Yet the overall show remains quite tame.

The usual suspects – from an Arthur Andersen employee trying to defend himself and a possible anthrax scare on an L car to misguided airport security/racial profiling, a deified fire fighter and a Bush briefing on who is and who is not evil for the moment – descend on us like a relentlessly repetitive Fox News broadcast.

If you’re looking for subtlety, you won’t find it on a stage which, in previous revues, has managed to dexterously weave in subtext and a quietly multitiered sense of menace. Apart from the understated bon mots of Debra Downing and David Pompeii, the rest of the cast (with the exception of the enjoyably outrageous Martin Garcia) goes for obvious and obnoxious laughs. Abby Sher, Brian Boland and Al Samuels, while versatile, tend to stay at one unadventurous pitch.

Some of the sketches – like Sher’s psychotic music teacher verbally bludgeoning the audience into singing "America the Beautiful;" a Paxil-popping couple deliriously oblivious to their John Walker Lindh/survivalist son; a woman complaining about her small breasts to her secretly big-boob-loving husband; and two redundant, time-killing cops – are embarrassingly unoriginal. Nevertheless, a bit about DICK Cheney, George W. BUSH and Kenneth LAY getting together "to fuck the nation" is among the show’s more inspired moments.

As I watched this revue, however, with its sketches lifted from the headlines and CNN, I realized that the problem surrounding the show may be rooted in a larger and more dismal reality. When the real news bombarding us is beyond absurd, how can comedians heighten the absurdity? It’s like spoofing a satire. In the sequence on airline passengers having their "ass cracks" inspected, one can’t help but think this could really happen. After all, who ever thought someone would try to light explosives in their shoes in full view of his fellow airline passengers? A few years ago, THAT would have been a Second City sketch.

Second City tends to be a staunch freedom of speech proponent. This time around though, the company does not criticize national policy or our confounding social climate as much as report on it. The writers-performers mainly reiterate what we encounter on a daily basis – prompting the disturbing question of how can comedy transcend the current unthinkable absurdities of our existence?

"Thank Heaven It Wasn’t 7/11" is in an open run on The Second City mainstage, 1616 N. Wells in Piper’s Alley. Tickets: $17. Call 312-337-3992 or log onto www.secondcity.com.
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