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THEATER REVIEW Gaslight District
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times
2018-04-11

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Playwright: the Cast

At: The Second City e.t.c. ( sic ), 230 W. North Ave. Tickets: 312-337-3992; SecondCity.com; from $21. Runs through: Open run

Shakespeare called them soliloquies, when actors stepped away from their surroundings to reveal their innermost thoughts.

The 19th century called them "asides," spoken for the audience's benefit. This new revue calls them "scene holes," when the action freezes so an actor can "tell the truth" directly to the audience. Although a time-tested device, it's cleverly refreshed in Gaslight District, The Second City e.t.c.'s lightning-fast 42nd revue, composed of blackouts, short scenes and songs in traditional format rather than a Harold.

Left behind are the often-tired routines about dating, parenting, office life and the mayor—mainstays of past revues—in favor of the flavor of the times: national politics. Trump is targeted repeatedly, although he appears ( portrayed by Andrew Knox ) only twice, briefly. His presence looms large nonetheless in skits such as three Germans celebrating the fact that Nazism is illegal in Germany but not in the USA, or the song about finding "salvation in the Power of the Gun." Another skit parodies how news outlets spin the same story: regarding divorce, Fox News states "The more divorces you have, the better prepared you are to be president." Most potent of all is an Act II sketch in which a Dreamer turns himself in for deportation. Most of it is hilarious—an absurd treatment of a sober subject—but the ending twist is serious and earnest, which is tremendously affecting and not the usual scene button at The Second City.

Other noteworthy scenes are a song about "a gender alien from planet Dildo," a brilliantly-improvised rap song and an improvised scene with an audience member, who cleverly is worked into both Act I and Act II sequences.

For some years The Second City has promoted inclusiveness in its companies, so it seems somewhat retro when they call attention to inclusiveness, but they do. Cast member are introduced with nicknames such as "Tall Gay One" ( Emily Fightmaster ), "Ethnically Ambiguous One" ( Sayjal Joshi ) and "Really White Man" ( Knox ). Other players are "Short Troll Man" ( Jasbir Singh Vazquez ), "Skeleton Nerd" ( slender Alan Linic ) and "Thicc" ( plumpish Katie Kershaw ). All of them are talented, energetic players and very evenly matched as an ensemble under director Anneliese Toft. By the end of the show, however, Vazquez stands first among equals for his skillful physical work. Jacob Shuda is the stellar keyboard man and composer, and proves how integral sound and music are to revues such as this. Also contributing to the show's success are Abby Beggs' lighting design and veteran Bob Knuth's set design, a clever wall of doors with clerestory windows above.

Gaslight District is a winning show.


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