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'Between Barack' funniest Second City show in years
If you take the hilarious new Second City revue as a cultural barometer, the strained candidacy of an unloved Hillary Rodham Clinton is being slowly crushed by a charming rival with a Kenyan daddy and a chameleonic ability to be black, white, Jewish, Latino, gay or, in a pinch, a soccer mom. All depending on who is doing the projecting.
Obama as malleable slate for liberal hopes and dreams is the uber text of "Between Barack and a Hard Place," the funniest mainstage show on Wells Street in several years. And in one drop-dead-funny sketch late in the show, that leaves a frustrated Hillary (as played with buttoned-down veracity by the pitch-perfectly geeky Molly Erdman) stuck desperately learning how to be loved. As Erdman plays Hillary, her sincere, recognizable attempt to forge a likable laugh comes out mostly as a series of demonic gurgles.
Far more than in recent years, the show is suffused with political themes -- including a mournful Erdman love ballad titled "Where Was This Al Gore Before?" that manages a delicious rhyme between "Tipper" and "zipper." "If the Polar Icecaps Melt," Erdman goes on, warming to her once-soporific, now-rehabilitated idol, "I'll Share My Raft With You."
You could attribute the rise in sharply topical material to the power of the likes of Jon Stewart and (ex-Second Citizen) Stephen Colbert, who do most of their hiring on Wells Street. Not coincidentally, every hopeful male in this show sports a shiny shirt, a striped tie and a short, politico-style haircut. If the best ticket out of Second City to national fame used to be either outrageous edge in the John Belushi or Chris Farley mold, or irony in the Bill Murray, it's now more a matter of looking like a fake news anchor or a slick Georgetown striver. That's the market, and Second City surely has adjusted.
But in all fairness, this show has plenty of nods to the old days. The acerbic, caustic Joe Canale, who had a dazzling, standout show on opening night, has the single funniest routine involving a live audio tour of the Art Institute of Chicago. It's dispensed live from behind a door by a South Side Chicagaw character inclined to confuse Reuben sandwiches with the Rubenesque, and unimpressed by one Mon-ETTE picture of a stack of wheat at 9, followed by a picture of another stack of wheat at, "like, 9:30." This killer skit, performed by Canale and the promising Brad Morris, owes something to "Da Bears" but has a far more complex cultural perspective.
The short "blackouts" are uncommonly good here too. There's one about Attention Surplus Disorder (kid, still, smiling). And early in the show, a wife looking for her husband is told by an Indian character in her living room that hubby is playing cards elsewhere, having outsourced the evening. "Can you fix my computer?" she replies.
"Between Barack and a Hard Place"
When: Open run
Where: Second City, 1616 N. Wells St.
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Tickets: $19-$24 at 312-337-3992