Writers: Ryan Asher, Tyler Davis, Jeffrey Murdoch, Emma Pope, Nate Varrone, Kimberly Michelle Vaughn
At: The Second City Mainstage, 1616 N. Wells St. Tickets: 312-337-3992 or SecondCity.com; $31-$58. Runs through: Open run
Exceptional sketch comedy is a painstaking gift. Think about why your favorite comics are so endeared to you; they are some combination of fearless, present and vulnerable, which are hard qualities to maintain, just ask Dave Chappelle or ( gulp ) Louis CK. The team behind Second City's newest Mainstage Revue are exactly the vulnerable luminaries we need, and their work is inviting and generous. Algorithm Nation or The Static Quo is a reminder that sketch comedy can be touching, disturbing and cognizant of our fraught, dumb world.
In this comedic onslaught, a HAL-style artificial intelligence with a soothing voice is prompting scene after scene, based on information scrubbed from the Second City audience, but there's a bug in the system, and sketches have begun taking on violent, wildly inappropriate qualities. This machine is finding the humor in white allyship, police violence, anti-feminists, and instagram shills; it's turning beloved characters like Charlie Brown into cold-blooded assassins, or a gathering of Lost Boys ( from the movie Hook ) into malnourished cannibals. What a hilarious nightmare! Someone is going to have to take action to stop this glitching software … specifically, someone from the audience.
Director Matt Hovde has crafted a virtually non-stop performance that keeps the seams between each segment airtight. You'll barely have time to blink before the next performer is onstage mugging in a sequined jacket. This production adheres to that important Arrested Development tenet of rewarding attentive audience members with call-back bits and returning characters. And, if you're sitting somewhere handy, chances are you'll be given a task, like shouting out a place, solving a word jumble, or taking the reins of the show entirelyno pressure!
This troupe is woven tighter than an accent rug, and each of them are integral; Jeffrey Murdoch is a perfect creepy middle-school boyfriend, creepy stepdad and all-around weird, clammy presence. ( It's the mustache. ) Emma Pope arranges sweet girlfriend and romance author facades just to watch them crumble under mountains of human oddness. Kimberly Michelle Vaughn is a bolt of lightning with the ideal energy to pull off spunky tweens, White House interns and unstable dancing brides. Nate Varrone won't stop until he's inspired a potent mix of disgust and pity, no matter who he plays; talk show host, man fulfilling his ultimate sexual fantasy, etc. Tyler Davis has a way of luring you in with sweet & sensitive energy, then adding a steady drip of incredulity, urging you to swim in deep intellectual waters. Finally, can I gush about Ryan Asher? She is so distinct, it's going to make you double over and wet yourself. It's the kind of madcap joy that is great on it's own, and elevates everyone around her.