Well. I wouldn’t exactly use these guys as Washington political consultants, since they apparently believe that Adrian Fenty is Italian – more on that later – but the latest Second City visit to Woolly Mammoth is pleasant and agreeable and full of chuckles, and thus is a nicer time than, say, a Bernie Sanders filibuster.
The veteran comic troupe presents thirty-one sketches over ninety minutes of stage time; about a third of them misfire, but the remainder is cheerful and fun, if not exactly pointed satire.
The Second City ensemble troupe which performs this particular show is composed of four women – Brooke Breit, Lili-Anne Brown, Lori McClain and Rebecca Sohn, and one man, Joey Bland. They are all good, although I particularly liked the versatile Brown, and Bland, whose comic timing punches up some otherwise unremarkable sketches.
They are accompanied by their cannon-voiced musical director, Diana Lawrence, who punctuates the sketches with musical commentary. Some of the music tends to drown out the performers; this is a problem, I assume, which Second City will correct in time. But believe me when I tell you that you could hear Lawrence, who has a sweet voice, even through nuclear warfare.
Some of the sketches are absolutely brilliant. I am thinking of a heartbreaking scene in which McLain and Bland have to tell Breit, their twelve-year-old, that daddy has lost his job; the scene devolves into an improv exercise in which the grownups have to explain the consequence of Bland’s job loss again and again, altering it slightly each time. Breit is particularly good in this, nailing the perspective of the bratty, self-indulgent, supremely vulnerable 12-year-old.
There are some other great sketches: the four women do a lovely account of the joys and perils of being the wife of a philandering Senator. At the last moment, Bland emerges as the philanderer, dancing his way boyishly through the accusations. Both Bland (as Todd Palin) and Brown do some very clever audience-interaction bits, showing some highly developed improvisational skills.
The one full length piece that the company attempted on the day I watched the show, a musical improv, however, failed. Given a location (the Washington zoo), a personality (Mayor Adrian Fenty), and an issue (education) from the audience, the troupe pretty much made a mishmash of it, highlighted by its assumption (perhaps guided by the Mayor’s first name) that Fenty is Italian. The show also included an astonishingly out-of-date joke about literacy tests for voting (literacy tests were prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1966), which they resurrected by airily imagining that voting had been privatized and was being run by the Tea Party.
The Tea Party came in for a lot of attention; there was an extended sketch, the purpose of which appeared to be to show that Tea Party members were not sophisticated. Well, duh. Satire directed at an individual politician can be art; satire directed at a large group of Americans is cultural warfare.
But the secret of watching comedy is to acknowledge that not every effort succeeds, and to let it go and enjoy the rest. Second City gives us plenty to giggle about, and so I recommend you dismiss the dark thoughts which always haunt you this season, and go ahead and giggle.
A Girl’s Guide to Washington Politics
Created by the cast of Second City, and by Kate James
Directed by Billy Bungeroth
Produced by The Second City at Woolly Mammoth
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
A Girl’s Guide to Washington plays thru Jan 9, 2011 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D St NW, Washington, DC.