A Clown Car Named Desire
By Brooke Breit, Punam Patel, Mike Kosinski,
Plenty of laughs, but some skits overstay their welcome
|The Second City e.t.c. presents|
|A Clown Car Named Desire|
Review by Catey Sullivan
Dreams differed and dissipated into disillusion take center stage in Second City e.t.c.‘s latest revue, a hit-and-miss production that is pocked with some outrageously funny scenes but on balance isn’t likely to go down in the annals of the famed comedy institution’s greatest hits.
As you might expect with a show with a title that’s a warped version of a Tennessee Williams’ classic, the late, lauded playwright comes into the comic crosshairs. But directed by Ryan Bernier, the cast of performer/writers (Carisa Barreca, Brooke Breit, Mike Kosinski, Michael Lehrer, Punam Patel and Chris Witaske) also takes aim at such wildly divergent topics as Aldi’s, Tom’s Shoes, gay rights, maternity leave and American Apparel . That last is the subject of the evening’s most successful scene, wherein a trio of laconic cool kids (Breit, Kosinski and Witaske) swan about the obnoxiously, self-consciously hip retail giant conversing about freeganism and why anyone who feels the need to ever leave the environs of Logan Square/Wicker Park/Bucktown is simply not worthy of taking up space on the planet.
As for that Williams send-up, it’s a fine bit of business that showcases the lightning-quick improv reflexes that the troupe possesses as well as their impressively solid knowledge of the tropes of Southern Gothic. Not so successful is an opening gambit featuring Kosinski and Lehrer as (gay) prom dates, and Witaske as Lehrer’s hetero-clueless straight older brother. The skit is downright sentimental, a regular warm-n-fuzzyfest. And that’s the core problem here. Sentimental is not what one wants from Second City.
Fortunately, sentiment-free bad romances play an integral part in Clown Car, the most successful one coming as Patel and Kosinski play life-long best friends whose relationship is put to the test by Kosinski’s new "porn star Barbie" girlfriend (Barreca). The skit is a study in contrasts, with Patel quite effectively portraying a 30-year-old Dairy Queen manager who defensively claims she is just about to get her "fashion line" off the ground and who had to drop out of OK Cupid because her profile generated so much interest it crashed her computer. It’s a funny, sad, and wholly recognizable portrait of an adult stuck in backward-baseball-hat-wearing adolescence, desperately attempting to deal with peers who have moved on without her.
Barreca – a classic blond bombshell with a fearless goofiness that evokes the rubber-faced Lucille Ball – stands out in an all-too-recognizable bit involving an insurance-less young woman trying to get an urgent healthcare need met through a Walgreens "doctor", with the latter dividing his attention providing very dubious healthcare and cleaning up the jelly spill in Aisle Two. Breit brings the crazy in the best possible way during a restaurant-set skit skewering the dubious power of "The Secret" while also digging into the emotionally perverse practice of Facebook cat-fishing. Kosinski and Witaske continually display their prowess as extraordinarily gifted physical comics with the former getting maximum mileage out of his Preying Mantis physique and the latter donning a pair of skin tight, Siamese Tiger leggings to terrific effect (the leggings are funny before Witaske says a word. Once he starts talking, they get even funnier). The duo also delivers a hallucinatory bit of business that serves up Cirque-de-Soleil-on-crack realness within the confines of a neighborhood Laundromat.
So with all these high points, why did I leave Clown Car Named Desire feeling vaguely dissatisfied? Under Bernier’s direction, many of the scenes simply wear out their welcome. What’s funny as a rapid-fire comic shot becomes merely grating when it carries on even a tad too long, and that’s a problem throughout Clown Car. Moreover, too many of the sketches simply miss the mark. An audience-interactive game show starts out with promise but quickly degenerates into obvious bawdiness and (more) feel-good sentimentality. One doesn’t want to see the power of enduring love celebrated at Second City so much as one wants to see a wicked, razor-wire observations on the endless permutations of the troubles that can accompany it. Roses are what one expects from a Nicholas Sparks novel. Thorns are more Second City’s métier, and there’s too few of them under the microscope here.
A Clown Car Named Desire continues its open run at Piper’s Alley, 1608 N. Wells, 2nd Floor (map), with performances Tuesdays-Thursdays at 8pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and 11pm, Sundays at 7pm. Tickets are $23-$28, and are available by phone (312-337-3992) or online through their website(check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More info at SecondCity.com. (Running time: play length, includes an intermission)
Photos by Todd Rosenberg
behind the scenes
Ryan Bernier (director), Alex Kliner (musical director, original incidental music, sound design), Kyle Anderson (lighting design, stage manager), Anneliese Toft (asst. director), Sarah Ross (scenic design), Rachel S. Parent (stylist), Alison Riley (producer), Jeremy Smith (asst. producer), Todd Rosenberg (photos)