I have had the pleasure this week of seeing not one but two shows that deal with the collapse of civilization as an exercise in comedy rather than tragedy. (Read the review of You, Nero). In fact, Woolly Mammoth Theatre’s seasonal theme this year is “does civilization have an expiration date?”—answer yep!) and this was carried over into Second City’s latest show, Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies. (One wonders what theme Woolly Mammoth can do after the end of civilization—the Afterlife, Reincarnation, etc?!?) It seems like a lot of cultural works appearing on the scene these last few years from blockbuster films like Contagion, to TV shows like The Walking Dead, to novels like World War Z and Roboapocalypse are dealing with the End of the World. In between all the tsunamis, financial meltdowns, and actual nuclear meltdowns it’s sort of easy to see why a lot of people are convinced Armageddon is upon us. And to Second City the best thing to do in the face of horror is laugh until you cry.
And do they deliver! This is Second City’s edgiest, darkest, and most irreverent show yet; hell it’s not just irreverent it’s positively sacrilegious especially where God appears at a row of slot machines just to f*%k with people’s heads. You’ve got animal cruelty, racial tensions revealed over a baseball game, super-creepy TSA agents, a Tea Partier dreaming of dancing with Barack, gospel shows, an atheist’s last serenade about all her unanswered questions like, “If Jesus didn’t sing on your album why are you thanking him when you get your Grammy?” and scenes from the afterlife. Like other Second City productions, Everybody Dies involves a certain amount of improvisation, especially during the bits with audience participation. (And audience participation is not voluntary—warning to anyone in the front row–there’s no telling when you’ll be put on the spot.)
I have a few minor quibbles with the show. Second City is, of course, a Chicago-based company, so there are lots of references to the Windy City. That’s all well and good except it’s D.C., not Chicago. Frankly, references to life in the Beltway area fit the idea of the Apocalypse even better. If any town has a starring role in the coming Collapse it’s us! Some of the skits were a little off theme, like the male stripper segue, the break-in at the Chicago Bulls court, or the mother-son conference.
Off-theme or not, these sketches were all simply hilarious especially the male stripper sequence. James T. Alfred strips down to hot pink briefs to showcase some of the most hilarious and surprisingly good dance moves you can imagine. It’s a bold move showing the versatility of a performer who, prior to Second City, mostly did stage dramas and who after this I suspect will be in far greater demand for sketch comedy-and dance numbers!. In fact all the performers are uniformly excellent including Jessica Dukes, Travis Turner, Aaron Bliden, and veterans Maribeth Monroe and Scott Montgomery. Every single one of these performers ends up playing at least a dozen different characters in the show. (Travis Turner at one point does a memorable turn as James T. Alfred’s mother), and their level of energy is astounding. The strength and value of Second City, (whatever the theme) is in its top-notch performers. They are the breeding ground for some of the best sketch comics alive today. You might as well go, laugh, and enjoy now while you can, because hey everybody dies.
Photos by Michael Brosilow
Top photo: Maribeth Monroe and James T. Alfred
Bottom photo from left: Scott Montgomery, Aaron Bliden, Travis Turner, Jessica Frances Dukes, Maribeth Monroe, and James T. Alfred
Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
641 D Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004
Through January 8, 2012