The Second Citys "EMBRYOS ON ICE! OR FETUS DONT FAIL ME NOW"
BY LUCIA MAURO
After The Second City piquant proponents of Americas checks and balances system -- postponed the opening of its 87th revue due to our national tragedy, audiences no doubt wondered if the writers-performers could find anything worthy of satiric criticism. Would their merciless observations, often peppered with tasteless humor, of humanitys absurd sense of self-absorption suddenly be outmoded or considered sacrilegious in the face of such unspeakable carnage?
These questions weighed on my mind as I attended the surprisingly jam-packed opening of "Embryos on Ice! Or Fetus Dont Fail Me Now." And although President George W. Bush was not spared some potent ribbing over his dubious tax cut, the witty and agile ensemble managed to avoid disrespectful commentary while delivering perhaps one of The Second Citys most focused, mature and unified revues.
Its obvious that the troupes new approach of collaborative workshops paid off. Clown artist Michael Kennard, Second City artistic associate Mick Napier and veteran Second City director Jeff Richmond joined forces with the fresh, balanced and razor-sharp ensemble Craig Cackowski, Debra Downing, Nyima Funk, Ed Furman, Martin Garcia, Sue Gillan and David Pompeii to craft an eclectic showcase of societys hypocritical tendencies.
The Second Citys strongest suit remains its ability to bring back images or jokes at unexpected times no matter how obscure or unrelated including one about an unsuspecting moose. So their riffs have a fullness and malleability of purpose that extend beyond the stage.
An opening montage of flashbulb-popping paparazzi puts various figures (including God) in the limelight, then reveals a secret that undermines their efforts to use the media for self-promotion. Its followed by a sketch on a bungled school shooting by two nerdish girls, which although it sounds horribly insensitive is presented with such masterful lunacy that it makes a powerful case for tolerance.
The show takes its title from couples newfound ability to genetically engineer their own perfect child and the subsequent moral issues this process raises. In one of the most poignant scenes, a couple coos over its frozen embryo.
A brilliant dissection of burgers and fries as Americas meat and potatoes delivered in a marijuana haze takes on heady philosophical proportions, especially when we consider that fries originated in France. A movie focus group - with a variety of puffed-up, angry and clueless participants provides a riotous opportunity for the ever-versatile Cackowski to lament with serious self-importance the films implausibility "entirely lacking in plause."
Other ingenious segments include: George Washington describing new coins featuring images for each state (e.g. polygamy for Utah; executions for Texas); a ridiculous team-building retreat for corporate executives (one disgruntled employee shouts, "Were not lab rats, were computer programmers!"); a feisty Irish couple preparing for a liver transplant; an over-imaginative police sketch artist who favors the Cubist style; a zealous waiter who uses graphic sexual analogies to describe how good the food is; and a smokin improvised R&B trio (performed by Funk, Gillan and Downing) inspired by the word "pickle."
The entire ensemble is rich in flexibility and boldly defies stereotypes. This fully realized Second City revue symbolizes the best of American comedy at a time when the U.S. grapples with an incomprehensible vulnerability but is not afraid to tactfully keep even the flag wavers aware of societys shortcomings.
"Embryos on Ice! Or Fetus Dont Fail Me Now" is in an open run at The Second City, 1616 N. Wells (Pipers Alley). Tickets: $17. Call 312-337-3992 or log onto www.secondcity.com.