Bugged By The Millennium or Et Tu, Y2K, Red Robin Productions, at ImprovOlympic and Over The Topp Gunn, ImprovOlympic. By now it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Chicago’s glory days of razor-sharp satire and topical comedy are over. Even powerhouses like Second City and ImprovOlympic have gradually allowed substance to become subordinate to style. So Bugged by the Millennium comes as something of a surprise: it’s one of the few winning attempts at true political and social satire since the mock presidential debates at Second City nearly four years ago. ImprovOlympic veteran Steve Scholz has scripted a revue that has both a soul and a conscience.
There are some misfires: scenes about a radio-talk-show conspiracy theorist and a low-rent infomercial huckster smack of Saturday Night Live smugness. Still, when Scholz hits the mark–as he does more often than not–the results are impressive. And in the hands of director Sabrina Harper and the able Red Robin cast, even the one-joke premises–Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and PLO leader Yassir Arafat trying to resolve their differences peacefully in a series of madcap competitions–are thoroughly mined.
What this show lacks is continuity. Scholz wisely frames the revue with a pair of tight musical numbers, but aside from the penultimate scene (in which a journalist converses with Bill Gates’s disembodied head), most of the material deals more with premillennial tension than with the Y2K crisis or the millennium itself. Still, this show has the courage to tackle some difficult subjects.
Over The Topp Gunn, on the other hand, comes up short on both laughs and ambition. Jim Carlson and Craig Uhlir’s adaptation of the 1986 movie is almost entirely devoid of originality. Like Jedi! A Musical Tour de Force and this summer’s The Fandom Menace, this lowly stage version of Tony Scott’s naval aviation melodrama derives most of its humor from the cast’s tedious line-by-line recitation of the original dialogue. Carlson and Uhlir have done a fine job of emphasizing the homoerotic subtext of this buddy film–though their skewering is decidedly less humorous than Quentin Tarantino’s three-minute rant in Sleep With Me–but there’s little else to validate this dull, artless parody.