By Walter Hickey
Chicago’s illustrious Second City Improvisation Theater was in full form at the Kimball Theater Saturday, as it performed “Fair and Unbalanced,” a show which fuses Second City’s famed pre-written sketch comedy with its world-renowned improvisation. The performance not only showed the Williamsburg community exactly why The Second City is the gold standard in sketch and improv, but it also demonstrated what a great location the Kimball provides for appreciation of the performing arts.
Alumni of Second City include Joan Rivers, Eugene Levy, Steve Carell, John Candy and John Belushi. Coming from one of the oldest improvisational theater groups in the country, The Second City’s members have gone on to careers in stand-up comedy, television writing, silver screen acting and Saturday Night Live. The five players in Williamsburg last weekend did not disappoint; keeping the audience in stitches for the duration of the evening.
The show blended ripped-from-the-headlines political commentary with some top-notch, pre-written material. The first act consisted of primarily brief comedic scenes, several improv games executed by those who are masters of the craft, and the single greatest impression of a blow-up doll I have ever seen. Admittedly, I had not seen too many blow-up doll impressions prior to this past Saturday. But if it caused me and an entire audience of Williamsburg middle-aged couples, retirees and upstanding theater-going citizens to break into uncontrollable laughter, it must have been a rather good one.
As the evening wore on, “Fair and Unbalanced” also incorporated more audience participation. While still a bit cold at the onset of the evening, the audience — the majority of which was made up of Williamsburg locals out for a night on the town — eventually warmed up to the idea of getting up on stage and having some fun with some of the best new comics in the country.
Once that happened, the show really got rolling. Early in the show, the audience was reluctant to shout out an occupation for an improv exercise. But by the second act the troupe had members of the audience on stage, participating in an improptu orchestra or acting out a licentious script involving a New Jersey housewife, a male model, “the most offensive impression of a Mexican you can think of” and a dying millionaire. The Second City troupe really shone when it involved the audience, but the long-form, pre-written sketches lagged a bit.
When the troupe made the whole room play “We Will Rock You,” or took one “lucky” audience member to prom, or sang a song to John the Shipbuilder (the naval contractor in the front row), the show was incredible. Improv requires a willing audience, and once The Second City found that, it succeeded. The combination of the cast’s charisma and quick thinking with the audience’s efforts to play along and have fun — and the fact that The Kimball sold gallons of wine to this crowd during intermission — came together to make a great second act.
There were not many students in the audience — by my non-scientific assessment, there were probably less than 10, potentially less then five College students there. The reason behind this lack of attendance was almost certainly the steep ticket price, $24 per student. This was a shame since it kept many students away from a great show.
While the show was a bit expensive and not really aimed at the student demographic, The Second City lived up to its legendary reputation. I had a blast, and even though my wallet is a bit lighter, I think overall the show was worth it.