Pinata Full of Bees, Second City.

In a society like ours it’s all too easy to confuse a change in packaging with a change in product–in fact, such confusion is encouraged. So it’s refreshing to find that Pinata Full of Bees, directed by Tom Gianas, not only improves on the packaging of the average Second City revue but on the product as well.

The anal, predictable Second City pattern (sketch, blackout, sketch, blackout) has been replaced with a complex, messy structure reminiscent of the surreal, anarchistic worlds of Monty Python and Firesign Theatre. Sketches morph midway through into other sketches. Characters from one sketch suddenly pop up in others. Sometimes two related sketches are enacted at the same time, as when Rachel Dratch and Adam McKay play out a talky comedy bit while Scott Adsit does a very funny imitation of a man racing up the stairs of a tall building.

But these packaging differences are nothing compared to the material itself, easily the funniest and most intelligent, surprising, and creative stuff Second City has done in a long time. Borrowing a few tricks from the Torso and Annoyance theaters as well as from cast member McKay’s Upright Citizens’ Brigade, the show contains some wonderfully dark, taboo-breaking humor: skits about a killer ferret, a sweet meet in an elevator that ends in murder, and a harrowing journey worthy of R. Crumb through the dark side of the 50s.

Second City proved a long time ago that a comedy troupe can survive and even thrive (thanks to tourists, conventioneers, and suburbanites) long after its artistic death. Now they’re showing that there’s artistic life after death.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Roger Lewin-Jennifer Girard Studio.