Apes of Wrath
Second City’s e.t.c. troupe goes into orbit
|Second City presents|
|Apes of Wrath|
Review by Catey Sullivan
Second City’s e.t.c. troupe goes into orbit with Apes of Wrath, lacing its 38th revue with recurring astral motifs that sometimes generate a lump in the throat as much as a laugh from the gut. Which isn’t to say the famously caustic humor of the world’s premiere comedy troupe is getting soft as it enters middle age. Far from it. But faced with a mirror reflection that blurts out hard truths such as “You will screw this up,” “Nobody likes your stories” and “You will die alone. So alone.” rather than clichéd self-help platitudes, it’s tough not to laugh and sigh at simultaneously.
Honesty unencumbered by warm and fuzzy affirmations that we’re all special little snowflakes can make you sad at the same time you’re cracking up. We’re all just little lonely planets after all, and maybe not even that. Look what happened to Pluto: Once a noble sphere, now just a big, old gas bag.
Directed by Jen Ellison and written and performed by a sextet of gifted, hyper-intelligent comics (Carisa Barreca, Brooke Breit, Eddie Mujica, Punam Patel, Asher Perlman and Tim Ryder), Apes of Wrath merges physical schtick, precision timing, quick-witted improv and fearless creativity.
To be sure, some of the targets the company opens fire on are easy: An amusingly earnest Asher Perlman skewers judge-y Christians (or more accurately, “Christians”) with a coffee house-ready folk song elaborating the hypocrisy, double standards and sexism endemic among those who are certain they know exactly what God wants. It’s a predictable number, but it’s funny nonetheless. A sketch involving Red Bull-fueled BuzzFeed “writers” shows the utter ridiculousness of a “news” organization that relies solely on listcicles. A later number goes after the sort of guy who keeps Axe body products in his bathroom (Nobody actually says “The horror. The horror,” in that very amusing bit of business, but it’s unmistakably implied.).
Married folk also encounter trouble in Apes of Wrath. In one daffy yet unexpectedly moving scene, the hilariously dorky Brooke Breit plays an astronaut trying to make a (very) long distance relationship work. One of the best sketches centers on anti-vaxxers, zeroing in on new parents who explain that they’ve done their research and made the informed decision to leave their child and everyone that child encounters vulnerable to potentially lethal, highly contagious diseases. The comeback sent zinging in the direction of such dangerously insufferable mothers is pinpoint perfect, and you will want to jot it down for future use.
The company goes riotously into deep off-the-wall territory with a sketch that imagines a young woman on deck during the last, frantic moments of the Titanic. As a passenger who apparently has deep issues with lifeboats, Barreca serves up Old Hollywood bombshell realness, with a generous infusion of sheer zaniness. She’s a classic platinum blonde bombshell who evokes Gene Harlow and Lucille Ball in their glamorous heydays.
While the ensemble meshes beautifully throughout the revue, newcomer Eddie Mujica essentially carries his own internal follow-spot for its duration. That’s a good thing. Mujica is an awkward, rubber-faced wonder whose expressive command of both physical and cerebral comedy is packaged with some serious star power.
Working with musical director Alex Kliner, Ellison has sculpted a fast-paced production that delivers the humor you’d expect from a Second City show around an existential commentary on the insignificance and essential aloneness that defines life on a planet that’s probably little more than a cosmic dust speck in the grand scheme of things. And while that thought might be a downer, you’ll exit e.t.c. laughing.
Apes of Wrath continues at the second floor of Pipers Alley, 230 W. North (map), with performances Tuesdays-Thursdays at 8pm, Fridays and Saturdays 8pm and 11pm, Sundays 7pm. Tickets are $23-$48, and are available by phone (312-337-3992) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at SecondCity.com. (Running time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)
Photos by Todd Rosenberg
behind the scenes
Jen Ellison (director), Alex Kliner (musical direction, sound design), Kyle Anderson (stage manager), Tyler Dean Kempf (assistant to the director), Sarah Ross (set design), Rachel S. Parent (stylist), Kyle Anderson (lighting design), Crosstown Scenic (set design), Andrew Alexander (CEO, executive producer), Kelly Leonard (executive vice president), Alison Riley (producer), Jeremy Smith (associate producer), Robin Hammond (director of marketing), Todd Rosenberg (photos)