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The Second City: Too Busy to Hate, Too Hard to Commute

a Comedy Improv Show
CATEGORY : COMEDY
by Ed Furman, TJ Shanoff, and the Second City

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Hertz Stage [WEBSITE]
ID# 3175

SHOWING : September 19, 2008 - October 26, 2008

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Chicago's Famed Second City Troupe takes aim at Atlanta, and fills the Hertz Stage with sketches about the city we all love to joke about -- Atlanta!


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REVIEWS

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Too Dull to Wound, Too Long to Sustain
by Dedalus
Monday, October 6, 2008
2.0
Earlier this year, the creative staff of Chicago’s famed Second City comedy troupe came to town for deep research prior to writing this Atlanta-based sketchfest, “Too Busy to Hate, Too Hard to Commute.” They stayed for three days. The result is a mixed bag of sketches, some very good, some, very bad, most moderately amusing. As to the accuracy of their satiric barbs, they have the keenness and depth of a team of writers who, well, spent only three days learning about the city. In other words, the stuff about Atlanta is about as funny and effective as what we see every day in the AJC’s vent column.

That’s not to say this effort isn’t worth a visit. This is a talented bunch of comedians, all of whom show a commitment and skill that sells this material, all of whom show a keenly honed penchant for improv and absurdity. There are a lot of laughs to be had, and no opportunities are missed. I only wish the writing part were as sharp as the performing part.

The first piece, which of course takes aim at Atlanta’s traffic, is amusing, if a bit long. But let’s be honest here. Do any of us really find anything funny about Atlanta traffic? For that matter, is there anything about Atlanta traffic we haven’t heard before (or even laughed at before)? This is followed by another moderately amusing piece that takes aim at Smyrna and chain restaurants. Like all the sketches, it ends with a kicker line that’s funny and reverses all we have heard before. And the sketch even displays a certain amount of affection for the venues it’s aiming for. But, when all is said and done, it’s a piece which reveals nothing at all about the Metro area that doesn’t come across as a patronizing sneer by an out-of-towner.

A very long (and not-so-funny) piece about excessive consumption could be done in any city with any local celebrity, and a final “round table” discussion about a new motto for Atlanta was obviously written by someone with no familiarity with the communities being discussed. Even some of the generic political stuff misfires and overstays – a nice idea skewing Barack Obama’s penchant for “being everything for everyone” makes its point again and again and again and again. And, just in case we didn’t get it, repeats the whole thing in the second half of the show. the llwest point was a second act parody of "Dirty Dancing" that was not only a bad (and sophomoric) idea, it was criminally unfunny and awkwardly performed.

Which brings me to another beef – can sketch comedy such as this sustain itself for a full two hours? Potentially, I suppose it could, if it were funny enough, varied enough. In this case, though, I would have to say no. Too many of the pieces are better in concept than execution, too many make comedic points we’ve seen too many times before, and too many just fall flat. This is a case where the audience knows more about the subject than the writers, and can see the punch lines coming from a mile away. Worse, they are punch lines we’ve sometimes made ourselves, especially if we’re frequent AJC “Vent” contributors.

Now that I’m done venting, let me sing the praises of this cast. Atlantans Tim Stoltenberg and Amy Roeder hold their own alongside Second City regulars Anthony Irons, Robyn Norris, Michael Lerner, and Ric Walker. Indeed, Ms. Roeder had the longest sustain piece of comedic invention of the evening, when she portrayed a blow-up doll on a romantic evening at home, and probably got the biggest laugh of the night with her one-word response to an audience suggestion to do a scene in the style of a certain movie director who shall remain nameless (since, it may never be repeated during the run). Also deserving a shout-out is Mr. Walker’s pseudo-Barry-White number to Mayor Franklin – like everything else, it makes its point early and often, but Mr. Walker was able to sustain it, making me sorry to see it end.

In general, I liked most of the really short pieces, simply because they didn’t try to do anything more than set up a punch line and deliver it. Also, the segments of pure improv, reacting to suggestions from the audience, showed the troupe at its best. Accompanist Lisa McQueen was able to keep up with the shifting expectations of the improv format, and was able to support the songs without overwhelming the performers.

So, in the final analysis, this would have been a much better show (for me), if it had not tried to make itself “relevant” to Atlanta, if it had concentrated more on shorter “blackout” writing, keeping the longer segments to highlight the troupe’s considerable improv skills, and had kept the evening an intermission-less 70 to 90 minutes. As it is, there moments of laughter and moments of comedic skill, but also too many moments of clock-watching “what were they thinking?” tedium.

In other words, its satiric edge chose too-easy targets, and was too dull to wound, and it keep going on and on for a time span that was too long to sustain its comedic impact.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


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