Mountain Dew. Hulk Hogan. Stuffed crust pizza. These. These things make America great. At least according to The Second City. It’s a sad list, but luckily the open secret here is that The Second City does actually make us great. Or, rather, certified platinum awesome.
For those not in the know, The Second City is an historic Chicago-based sketch theatre and improv troupe that cultivates comic legends: Arkin, Belushi, Akroyd, Radner, Colbert, and Fey. It’s as much a part of the American fabric as apple pie, so it’s fitting for it to land in the Capitol, take over the Kennedy Center’s Theatre Lab (while giving shout-outs to the perpetual Shear Madness), and give us—in this bizzaro election year—the Almost Accurate Guide to America.
Using a “time machine” to thread the past to the now, the ensemble (Ryan Asher, Marla Caceres, Tyler Davis, Sayjal Joshi, Andrew Knox, and Ross Taylor) ferries us through history in a series of both pre-scripted and improvised rapid-fire scenes and places celebrated figures face-to-face with their present-day legacies and colleagues. Like the presumptive GOP nominee, Donald Trump. Or the potential 2026 president: Kanye West.
Don’t worry. Bernie and Hillary appear, too, and there’s plenty said about the ridiculousness of hipsters and Super PACs all around. But let’s follow comedy’s ability to call it like they see it and be frank. The Left favors satire and readily laughs at itself. Likely because it’s more chill. So, conservative characters take a better beating in this show. If you favor a Trump presidency, can’t admit that Ronald Reagan was fallible, and treat the Constitution as a static document, maybe rethink your Friday night.
Second City pokes holes in the ideas and sentiments that the Right holds dear—like that America was somehow better in bygone days when gay people stayed in closets, women stayed in kitchens, and minorities stayed in servitude—as smoothly as cutting butter. I mean, it’s hard not to knock around a toupee-wearing-pumpkin-colored-wife-cheating-Mexican-hating man who in a parallel universe likely leads the Oompa-Loompas. Trump is perfect meat for braising in Almost Accurate, which is surprisingly accurate.
That’s what has given The Second City longevity (it began in the 1950s). The intelligence with which it imbues its materials is timeless. Sure, there is vulgarity, but laughable commentary on lobbying, how political actions reverberate for decades, that great leaders fail too (like at being good husbands), and America’s Latin origins are all spot-on. And full of truth we should never forget.
California. Florida. Arizona. Colorado. Even America (as in Amerigo Vespucci). All Spanish words. Our first settlement? St. Augustine, FL. Marla Caceres, a Cuban-American, dons an accent often and spits Spanish like fire (she’s also an annoyingly agreeable Hillary Clinton). But, seriously, Second City asks us why we—in the land of immigrants—are so afraid of the others? In this realm, they don’t have ice blue eyes and can’t raise the dead into their personal, unstoppable militia (sorry, it’s Game of Thrones season, you know).
Andrew Knox is Trump on multiple occasions, hitting the man’s strange hand gestures with freakish precision, while Tyler Davis gives us renditions of “palatable” blacks, slaves, and even Bernie Sanders, who wants “no more money and for people to pay for things with hugs.” Davis kills every time he breaks out into rap, song, or dance and with Knox chomps into the lone genuinely poignant and touching (but still funny) scene that reminds us yesterday, today, and tomorrow. War is horrible. Good men go to die. Sadness prevails, not countries. And life keeps moving much in the same circle it’s spun for generations.
closes July 31, 2016
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The ensemble also plays with the audience, inviting them into the act and asking for material around which they can improvise, notably while playing a little game they call “What’s your privilege?” (I think that speaks for itself). But they are at their best during preplanned songs and raps, where they take down everything from Ronald Reagan (an excellent Ross Taylor—shout-out to a fellow rural Missourian!) to bro-y country music and Mitch McConnell. Sayjal Joshi kinda rocks on this front (pun intended) and as she amusingly impersonates Pitbull (aka Mr. Worldwide).
But Ryan Asher steals the show as an indignant Dolly Madison, reclaiming the word bitch alongside “the history-changing vaginas” known as Hillary Clinton and Eleanor Roosevelt and Making America Great Again (seriously, the most insulting political slogan ever)?
Speaking of great, the simple set and props are great. The music is great. The actors are great. During transitions, voiceovers of current quotes are great. My personal favorite? Those expressing outrage that Ghostbusters has been rebooted with all women. The horror. Silly, non-great America. Women can’t fight fake supernatural beings in a fictitious film. They aren’t brainy or brawny enough to outwit or battle CGI slime.
So, go for a laugh and learn a few facts. Also, rethink your prejudices and priorities. For these—healthy doses of humor, knowledge, and reflection—are the things that perpetuate real greatness. Not grandiose, meaningless, slogans and purposefully divisive, brackish arguments. Thank the Milky Way we’ve got the stellar Second City (and other current comedy giants) to make us laugh at ourselves.
And, on a personal level, thank you, Second City. For years I’ve been grasping at the right nickname for the Washington Monument, and now I have it: the trouser obelisk. I’ll try to make it a thing. Promise.
The Second City’s Almost Accurate Guide to America . Written by Billy Bungeroth, Marla Caceres, Ed Furman, Scott Morehead, Carley Moseley, John Thibodeaux, and The Casts of The Second City. Directed by Billy Bungeroth . Featuring Ryan Asher, Marla Caceres, Tyler Davis, Sayjal Joshi, Andrew Knox, and Ross Taylor. Production: Meghan Teal (Stage Manager), Sean Sykes (Music Director), Colin K. Bills (Scenic Design), Elizabeth A. Coco (Lighting Design), Izumi Inaba (Costume Design), Julie B. Nichols (Sound Design and Original Compositions) . Produced by Second City Theatricals . Presented by The Kennedy Center . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.