Hey Hon. Don’t go downy Ocean. You’ll freeze your garbanzos off and not even a couple of Natty Bohs will warm you up. Fortify yourself with a nice crab cake and head on over to Center Stage, where The Second City comedy troupe is presenting a funny primer on Charm City, The Second City Does Baltimore.
Whether you’re a native pining for the glory days of Hutzler’s department store and the Baltimore Colts or a newcomer to this crazy quilt of neighborhoods and blue collar pride, the show will entertain with its blend of affectionate spoofs and inspired improvisation. Even if your knowledge of Baltimore is limited to the hit HBO show The Wire, there is something here for you—a hilarious musical version of the series, described as “a smidge of Annie, Wicked, and Dances with Wolves and featuring music by Marvin Hamlisch.”
For maximum enjoyment, however, you should either be a dyed-in-the-polyester Baltimore Hon or someone at least acquainted with the city through John Waters films. From the get-go, scenic designer Jennifer Stearns gets the details right—a set featuring Baltimore’s famed rowhouses with white marble steps and painted window screens, and pink flamingoes scattered about for verisimilitude.
Although The Second City was born in Chicago, the troupe—Warren Johnson, Brett Lyons, Dana Quercioli, Tim Sniffen, Niccole Thurman and Megan Wilkins—prove quick studies for the idiosyncrasies Baltimoreans hold so dear. Sketches parody the strict neighborhood demographics, as a real estate agent (the gifted Mr. Johnson) says to a relocating couple “Voulez-vous le camembert? If you don’t understand that, you can’t live in Roland Park.” and a sketch that celebrates the perils of “Small-timore,” as two singles looking for love are matched up for the 11th time. “Remember the fourth time we were matched up and we went to that swinger’s club and ran into my kindergarten teacher and your cousin?” Miss Quercioli reminisces, and every natural-born citizen nods, knowing that in this city there is virtually no such thing as anonymity.
The hipness of National Bohemian beer (“Natty Boh”) is questioned in a bit where Mr. Lyons sports the moustache and one-eyed visage of logo Mr. Boh, and nattily tap dances while admitting that the brew bears an uncanny resemblance to urine. The city’s rapidly shrinking newspaper, The Baltimore Sun, is lamented in a clever song titled “Sun’s Gone, Sun’s Set,” where Baltimoreans kvell that their hometown daily will soon be The Washington Post.
The women in the cast are the strongest—excellent singers and physical comedians—and they shine in the skit “The Real Hons of Baltimore,” a reality show pitting one bouffant-hairdoed, bingo-playing blue collar babe against another.
This being The Second City, ample opportunities for improv and input from the audience exist, and this can be a mixed blessing. One sketch starred Mr. Sniffen as a film noir detective solving a mystery with help from the audience, and on opening night an older gent in a sweater vest (ample comic fodder) was a game and congenial volunteer.
Certain performances will feature walk ons from noted Baltimoreans and the Wednesday celebrity was talk radio host and former Baltimore Police Commissioner Ed Norris, whose gruesome braggadocio concerning his days as a cop left the cast so flabbergasted they briefly lost their comic timing and inspiration. However, this “fly by the seat of your pants” quality is why we go to The Second City—you never know what’s going to happen.
The Second City Does Baltimore
By The Second City, with additional material created by Megan Grano and T.J. Shanoff
Directed by Matt Hovde
Produced by Center Stage
Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard
Running time: 2 hrs with 1 intermission
The Second City Does Baltimore runs thru Feb 20, 2011 at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD