Red Scare, Second City’s new main-stage production, is packed with crisply timed physical comedy as well as smart, sharp dialogue. But it also contains dramatic passages as strong as any in a “straight” play and songs as intelligent and well sung as any in a contemporary musical. Directed by Mick Napier, this is a bold piece of conceptual theater whose innovative long-form structure–a seemingly random stream of events develops into a dreamscape of a divided America–either demands close attention or invites you to submit to its hallucinatory flow, depending on your frame of mind. From Fear to Eternity, directed by Sue Gillan in the smaller E.T.C. space, is a more traditional blackout-sketch show exploring the theme of fears and fantasies, from scary monsters under the bed to sexy role-playing under the sheets. Both shows feature witty material created and performed by superb ensembles who combine tight timing with intuitive spontaneity. This is comic theater at its best, enriched by a combination of abrasiveness and compassion. Red Scare has an open run: Tue-Thu 8:30 PM, Fri-Sat 8 and 11 PM, Sun 8 PM. Second City, 1616 N. Wells, 312-337-3992 or 877-778-4707. $18-$19.50. From Fear to Eternity also has an open run: Thu 8:30 PM, Fri-Sat 8 and 11 PM, Sun 8 PM. Second City E.T.C., Piper’s Alley, 1608 N. Wells, 312-337-3992 or 877-778-4707. $18-$19.50. Reviewed this week in Section 1.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Brosilow.