By Charlene Baldridge
Sunday, July 31, Second City, considered the “leading brand” in U.S. improv-based sketch comedy, presented a troupe of six bright, varied talents in the opening of “Free Speech (While Supplies Last),” which plays in the Mandell Weiss Forum through Aug. 21.
It’s a perfect indulgence for the election year.
The major virtues of the ideal company needed for an extended evening of irreverent sketch comedy (around two hours) include a variety of skills and body types, an ability to think fast, and the ability of each to create and maintain a reliable persona and chemistry in various combinations.
Of all the Second City troupes experienced at La Jolla Playhouse (this is the fourth), this particular group is the most compatible, differentiated and appealing.
The topic, as befits the last 100 days of run-up to our November presidential election, is free speech as it applies (or not) to the process and the candidates and to the experience of the citizenry. There is a fair amount of (willing) audience participation and numerous sketches that involve improvisation engendered by invited call-outs from the audience, such as locales and situations.
As one may gather from this, the content varies from evening to evening, and no two performances will be identical.
One sketch about “privilege,” for instance, selects an audience member who most represents that word. Then the young man is taken backstage, a script put into his hand, and he is engaged as part of the sketch. Another exceptionally funny piece concerned shopping for a pistol at a firearms boutique. As the numbers of shoppers increased — one group shopping for a child’s first gun — so did the violence, until the carnage resembled the last act of “Hamlet.”
Other appealing (or appalling) sketches concern couples — one, a gay pair on a blind date getting to know one another (“Star Wars” or “Star Trek”? for instance, or going to Guy Fieri restaurants), and the other, a hetero bar pickup pair discussing in clinical, jaw-dropping detail, the mechanics of contraception vis-a-vis the woman’s “Ring” and the man’s growing fear that it is some kind of “dick noose.”
My favorite sketch involving all six performers was a communal house meeting ending in discussion of a certain brush that some residents are using to scrub the toilet, leaving a certain residue on it, and the slow dawning on all exactly what brush is being discussed.
Ludicrous situations and discussions, aren’t they? And yet, we’ve all had them or imagined having them. That’s what makes an evening with The Second City so enjoyable — they tread fearlessly and outrageously into all territory, including how to take back what you said, a la Donald Trump.
This troupe, comprising tall and gangly Emily Fightmaster, short-haired imp Carley Moseley, appealing Jeffrey Murdoch, diminutive Scott Nelson, versatile Chucho Pérez and tall, blond Julia Weiss, is one of the most musical and compatible in memory. The rather portly, mustachioed Murdoch is adept on trumpet; all sing a delightful ensemble ditty, “It’s the Saddest Thing”; and several sing solo numbers. Music Director Mary Mahoney enhances the entire show on keyboards, sometimes joining in on vocals.
The Second City was founded in 1959 and currently has training facilities in Chicago, Los Angeles and Toronto. Among many, many others, from its ranks have come Tina Fey, John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, and Stephen Colbert.