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THEATER REVIEW Dream Freaks Fall from Space
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2017-11-15

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Playwright: Kelsey Kinney, Ryan Asher, Tyler Davis, Jeffrey Murdoch, Tien Tran and Nate Varrone

At: Second City, 1616 N. Wells St. Tickets: $29-$46. Open run

Parochialism always makes for easy humor.

Fixed social divisions ( like those found in Shakespeare's England ) permit the gentry—in the company of their peers—to jeer at commoners, who then affirm their own camaraderie by mocking the higher-ups, while in our democracy, city and country dwellers delight in ridiculing each other. Confronted by increasing hostility arising from technology-facilitated reductions in intercommunity buffer-zones, however, the 106th Second City revue dispenses with gratuitous provocation to generate laughs aimed at preventing, not promoting, brawls on Wells Street following the show.

For example, a sketch involving a charades-like mimed exchange traps an audience member into responding with a marginally offensive epithet, but instead of humiliating the perpetrator, the performers defuse the faux pas so that the game can continue. In another sketch, a couple viewing a house discovers a ghostly orphan haunting their prospective nest, but then welcomes the spectral child into their family and, in another, a song cautioning parents that "your baby could be gay" invites playgoers to bestow joy and affection on the doll representing the titular infant.

A pair of nerds hoaxed by their classmates on prom night do not finish in a shower of pig's blood, but share a private dance away from would-be bullies. Even the ubiquitous punch line to every threadbare joke since November 2016 "Did you vote for Trump?" is presented by Tyler Davis as the query of a lover assessing his paramour's past mistakes before preparing to forgive them. ( "If you did, did you regret that decision?" )

The two-hour revue encompasses a few predictable sallies—faux nursery rhymes, one-shot sight gags lacking sufficient follow-up, and the obligatory middle-school giggles ( e.g. Putin saying "poopy" ), but more often strives for a congenial warmth designed to embrace, rather than accuse. This is most evident in a round of Six-Degrees-of-Separation that sends Jeffrey Murdoch and Tien Tran scurrying among the tables to, literally, forge connections between strangers.

Most noteworthy is the ensemble's willingness to remember casual remarks dropped in the course of the show and reference them later—illustrated most vividly in a one-sentence story recited by actors and audience together at the beginning of the show, then repeated in unison again at the end.


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