Better Late Than Nader, Second City E.T.C., and Second City’s Dysfunctional Holiday Revue, at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. Dexter Bullard’s work with Plasticene–the movement-based performance group he founded in 1995–makes him an excellent fit for the physical and verbal gymnastics of a typical Second City E.T.C. revue. Not only does he evince a keen sense of improv’s power in developing theater, he has an uncanny ability to push his performers toward all sorts of physical extremes. It helps that Bullard has been blessed in Better Late Than Nader with two extremely physical comedians, Abby Sher and Jack McBrayer. But the other four cast members also find hidden depths in their tremendously kinetic performances.

Even gag-driven scenes–one about a pair of inept Arab terrorists grappling with bombing orders, and another about white America’s inability to grasp the concept of Kwanza–are rendered more potent by efforts to ferret out the comedy’s human element. Of course, the nimble E.T.C. cast still delivers its biggest electric shocks when putting our country’s martyrs and iconoclasts up for slaughter, as when Andy Cobb–as Green Party candidate Ralph Nader–admonishes the American public for his poor showing in the polls (“I worked my ass off for 35 years for less than 3 percent of the vote? You are the United States of Suck!”). And while the troupe’s satirical perspective isn’t any less dark in this, its 22nd revue, trenchant cynicism has been tempered by rich character work: this show is on a more even keel than other recent E.T.C. efforts.

For the most part, Second City’s Dysfunctional Holiday Revue is composed of time-tested material, honed and sharpened on the Second City stages. But it should be noted that this isn’t so much a best-of show as it is a collection of scenes best suited to an unruly, inebriated audience: most of the scenes feature unruly, inebriated characters. And when another faction of the Second City Touring Company steps in for the final performances, odds are that life will continue to imitate art, art will continue to imitate life, and Christmas will remain blissfully fractured and dysfunctional.

–Nick Green