The Upright Citizens Brigade: Millennium Approaches and The Upright Citizens Brigade: Perestroika, at Second City E.T.C. and the Improv-Olympic. A newly constructed suburban home with a “hot chicks” recreation room. A shy Girl Scout who befriends and betrays the Unabomber. Two couples playing the “in bed” game with their fortune cookies. Little Donny, whose enormous penis causes his peers to ostracize him. A burned-out cop who resumes his duties to catch a kidnapper. A CEO with a scatological method of boosting his confidence. Three moderately witty musical parodies. A bucket of Truth, the sight of which renders the glimpser mad. Three funny voices in treble range. And one damn good punch line.

Mix them together in the long-form improvisation popularly known as a Harold, and you have part one of the Upright Citizens Brigade’s new show, Millennium Approaches. Watch their lips carefully in the Second City E.T.C. space, however, because the UCB personnel have a tendency to play to one another (and sometimes against one another, speaking over the other performers’ lines) instead of to their audience: valuable information is often unintelligible. And, as is so often the case with women in improv comedy, Amy Poehler is all but eclipsed by her larger and louder compatriots. This is too bad, since she and Matt Walsh seem to be attempting actual characters, while Ian Roberts and Matt Besser content themselves with conventional comic turns. (Though in the CEO-with-a-secret scene, both men play it straight and allow their material to carry the humor.)

Part two–different night, different theater–is called Perestroika, though the resemblances in both parts to Angels in America are limited to the titles and to a child in seraphim drag in part two who pops up to deliver oracular pronouncements. Perestroika purports to provide solutions to the social problems posed in Millennium Approaches, but mostly it focuses on integrating cyborgs–humans fitted with electronic parts, the descendants of robots–into our society (cf. the Little Donny and Unabomber scenes in part one). Barely half the length of the first part, this segment also offers standard-issue MTV spoofs, a standard-issue shoot-out, and some primitive but nicely executed hand-to-hand combat. But the moments when the players drop character and address one another by their real names–presumably to break through the long-ago-razed fourth wall–are merely confusing.

Overall, however, the UCB concentrates harder and cooperates better in Perestroika, which is far more focused and original–in its characterizations, anyway–than part one. Whether this superiority is due to the more congenial space at the Improv-Olympic, its more simpatico audiences, or the troupe’s lack of opportunity to clutter up the show with self-indulgent shtick is unclear. At any rate, anyone desiring a glimpse of the not-insignificant potential of this energetic group should opt for Perestroika over Millennium, and–to be on the safe side–do it soon.

–Mary Shen Barnidge