Musical Direction by Jacob Shuda
Produced by The Second City, Chicago
Self-Referential Sketch Show Worthy of More Development
Second City is back with a new revue following a fire earlier this year. While some parts of their building in Old Town are still covered in plastic, the Mainstage, now strangely decorated with printed wallpaper by set designer Bob Knuth, is ready for the six-person team of Chelsea Devantez, Paul Jurewicz, Rashawn Nadine Scott, Sarah Shook, Daniel Strauss, and Jamison Webb’s series of hilarious short sketches. But unlike the past few revues, Fool Me Twice, Déjà Vu has a structural concept. We open with a group of secretive time travelers mocking a man in 1990 with their knowledge of the future. After intermission, time bends back on itself, and we revisit several earlier sketches with a new perspective.
The improv performers are at their best in sketches that allow them to one-up each other. In an early scene, the three women appear as competitive multi-tasking moms who are determined to “have it all,” if “all” is defined as making low-fat yogurt for their kids from their own breastmilk while shattering the glass ceiling, and staying in shape while doing it. In another, Webb plays a man who suffers from such severe anxiety, he makes ordering coffee at Starbucks into a mini-drama. Some of the less political sketches revolve around poor parenting, which provides the troupe with many opportunities to go blue, which they do with well-practiced skill. Don’t eat ravioli before seeing this show.
The long-form sketches don’t fare as well. Scott and Webb were the only performers I noticed who were especially adept at ending story-driven scenes on a big laugh line, and the person at the lighting board may have been too timid or optimistic to blackout the scenes that weren’t working. Much of the satire was also tepid. As a millennial, I was disappointed that the two scenes about my generation never got any more incisive than the mocking of selfie-sticks. Surely people who appropriate the language of PTSD to complain about undergraduate coursework can provide fodder for more material. There’s also a whole scene devoted to Rachel Dolezal, but only a single reference to Donald Trump, and none to any other candidate, unless you count Kanye West. This is even though several sketches are agit-prop, and one literally ends with a performer telling us to write to our congressmen.
Fool Me Twice becomes truly clever in the second act, when the humor becomes more meta-theatrical. An earlier scene made a possible reference to the large number of plays we’ve seen about artificial intelligence; following intermission, we see a family age with the parents and children ironically having switched positions. Afterward, we are treated to a parody of a post-performance talk-back, which includes some of the show’s most pointed satire, at the expense of the theatre itself, and afforded Scott another opportunity for a brilliant quip. In one bit, which depends for laughs on its sheer awkwardness, the performers examine the contents of two audience members’ phones, and read their discoveries aloud. However, the show surprisingly manages to end with a bit of heart, as well as neatly tying all the other sketches together, and redeems a few which had been rough the first time around. Though I resent the missed topical gold mines, I expect that Second City’s fans will find this revue delightful. The concept provides an endless opportunity for humor.
Reviewed December 1, 2015
For more information, see Fool Me Twice, Déjà Vu’s page on Theatre in Chicago.
Playing at The Second City Mainstage Theatre, 1616 N Wells St, Chicago. Tickets start at $23; to order, call 312-337-3992 or visit SecondCity.com. Performances are Tuesdays-Thursdays at 8:00 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm and 11:00 pm, and Sundays at 7:00 pm. Running time is two hours with one intermission.