The Second City’s 107th MainStage Revue cast: Tyler Davis, Ryan Asher, Emma Pope, Nate Varrone, Kimberly Michelle Vaughn, Jeff Murdoch. © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2018.
Algorithm Nation, or the Static Quo, directed by Matt Hovde, is the Second City’s 107th Mainstage Revue. Let that number sink in for a while. 107 shows would be impressive no matter the material; that the famed comedy powerhouse has managed to deliver revues that are consistently world-class, all while serving as a testing ground for talent that is often outsourced to New York, Hollywood and the small screen–now that’s downright mind blowing.
But it’s certainly part of the appeal and why the Second City is so legendary, and why opening night’s 300 seat audience gave off such an eager, energetic vibe. We knew we were about to laugh, and hard. I reviewed last year’s Mainstage Revue Dream Freaks Fall From Space, and concluded:
Second City should be required viewing for any Chicago resident: the soul of this town, its scrappy pulse and neighborly heartbeat, are onstage nightly—and doesn’t it feel good to laugh with strangers, all connected by our zeitgeists, all unified by the knowing of the confusing and wondrous and scary-as-hell world we share?
I share the same sentiments for this show. It would’ve been hard to believe, last winter say, that the world could get much more volatile (culturally, politically, artistically); but here we are– and if you ever needed a textbook example of the urgent societal need for humor, well…. The cast here makes a promise at the top of the show to keep things light, and offer an escape from the drudgery of our times. They mostly do that, but peppered in are frequent references to gun violence, our political lunacy, and the loose thread of surveillance (by the government, the Russians, or Facebook, or take your pick) connecting the bits.
This is a very funny show; I will say that I remember Dream Freaks being a TAD funnier, but the good news is that we have a significant cast-member crossover from last year, and they continue to work together with such ease, and quick-fire wit that you hardly notice when a moment drags. Tyler Davis (back with his slick guitar stylings), Nate Varrone (feeling again like the ensemble’s father figure) and Jeffrey Murdoch (channeling John C. Reilly meets Charlie Brown) infuse each bit with easy showmanship and rhythmic skill.
But it’s Ryan Asher who’s the standout here. She’s got an awkward charm that sneaks up on you in group numbers, and an ability to land a massive punchline, dead-pan, in the middle of whatever nonsense is going on. And she delivers a veritable tour-de-force as the hype-man for our current president at a “Women For Trump” rally. Her catch-phrase is “shakin my tush,” and while that might not even elicit a chuckle when read, trust me, you’ll be caught off guard with laughter each time she breaks it out.
New cast members also have their moments to shine– Kimberly Michelle Vaughn is excellent as a bride left at the altar, forcing the DJ to play a masochistic “Cha Cha Slide,” and Emma Pope kills an improvised reading of a German erotic novelist’s latest steamer. And I was really impressed by a very extended bit using an audience member (readers with stage-fright, you’ve been warned).
Nothing reinvents the wheel here, but you know what, that’s kind of what makes the whole thing work. I thought about the Kit-Kat Club in Cabaret, the Emcee urging us to leave our troubles at the door and forget about the world for a while. At Second City, that’s just what happens. And thank heavens for that.
Algorithm Nation, or the Static Quo
is now running at the Second City Mainstage, 1616 N. Wells St. Running time is two hours. Tickets
start at $31.