THE NEXT GENERATION OF MISERY, at Second City, Donny’s Skybox Studio. The Breakfast Club-by premise of this high school comedy brings a nerd, jock, popular girl, aspiring hippie, and Alex P. Keaton rip-off together to combat a mysterious terrorist stalking the halls as graduation approaches. Though Stuart Draper’s unoriginal and overwritten script has its moments, it strands the obviously talented cast in a wasteland of feeble intrigue and flat self-discovery.

Some of the performers heroically come close to making the material work, but Draper’s direction renders their efforts futile. Matt Braunger and Mike Otto, for example, bring a nice awkwardness to their cliched nerd/jock rapprochement, but that subplot is completely divorced from what passes for the main action. Chris Burden and Megan Grano’s characterizations are solid enough to briefly support the ornate dullness of their lines but eventually succumb to the show’s leaden pacing. Joanna Buese is the most cruelly misused of the bunch: though she adeptly juggles four roles, stupid juxtapositions defuse all her work–in one sequence she dies, delivers her own eulogy, then replaces herself on the job.

The level of performance is generally so high, and the writing so competent if uninspired, that this show is never absolutely terrible; but the haphazard staging and blunt plotting ensure it’s never very funny either.

–Brian Nemtusak