Second City’s wacko lineage can be traced all the way back to the beginning, when, as Professor Walther von der Vogelweide, Severn Darden spun out triumphantly eccentric lectures on subjects like the intellectual capacities of fish. By 1971, his bizarre had metamorphosed into John Belushi’s berserk, and there’s been room for a loose cannon or two in Second City troupes ever since.
The clearest recent heir to Darden’s padded throne was Tim Robinson, who had no compunction about manipulating audience volunteers as if he were a demonic eight-year-old playing with his sister’s Barbie doll collection. But Robinson moved on to SNL last fall, and his nearest rivals for wacko supremacy—Tim Baltz of the strange dances and Asian-American-girl-cum-big-black-mama Mary Sohn—are gone, too.
Which has left us with a vacuum where shamelessness should be. All six members of the current main-stage company are quick, savvy, creative, and amusing. I’ve seen one of them, Katie Rich, be full-out brilliant. But none of them displays the inherent spark of anger, arrogance, perversity, or unbridled what-have-you that distinguishes a scion of the wacko lineage. That’s a problem, not just because talented insurgents are entertaining in themselves, but because they can push their colleagues and therefore an entire show toward an invigorating anarchy.
That’s the conclusion I draw from the current show, Let Them Eat Chaos, anyway. Consider veteran Second Citizen Edgar Blackmon. He had some scary-good moments in The South Side of Heaven, which also featured Robinson. Here, by contrast, the scary is missing. Something similar can be said of Rich and another talented veteran, Holly Laurent. Coincidence? I think not.
Let Them Eat Chaos is missing a necessary note. It’s got some accomplished set pieces: one in particular about the psychic cost of texting and another in which a black rapper (Blackmon) riffs on urban violence while his white partner (Ross Bryant, a newcomer who brings the first taste of hipster chic—i.e., a skinny suit and black-frame glasses—to the Second City stage) complains that his favorite Pinkberry no longer carries peach-flavored frozen yogurt. It’s also got a generous amount of improv, which is always welcome when the performers do it so well. Still, lacking the wacko factor, the overall effect is just so consistently . . . amiable. And it doesn’t help that the revue is structured around a time-travel motif that, ironically, goes nowhere.