For the fourth year in a row, the Alliance Theatre outsources another comedy show to the Second City. For the past three years, members of Chicago's legendary improv troupe wrote original, Atlanta-themed material for productions with names like Peach Drop, Stop and Roll. The latest show, Sex and the Second City, reboots the format.
The 2011 production switches themes from Atlanta in general to 21st-century romance in particular, while downsizing the cast from six performers to four. Rather than string together a grab-bag of sketches, songs, and one-liners, Sex and the Second City's scenes weave among four characters trying to negotiate love in the time of sexting. The format adds more emotional depth to the evening's humor, but at the expense of the Second City's fast-paced fun.
Pretaped video segments frame the evening through an eHarmony-type dating site called iLove. The iLove spokesperson, whose shtick runs through the entire show, turns out to be a famed, beloved Second City alumnus (whose I identity I won't give away, lest I spoil the best surprise). Two awkward iLove customers repeatedly endure bad dates. Clichéd nerd Edrick (Ed Kross) has the profile name "Han Sulu" and works at Medieval Times, while bespectacled office worker Dorinda (Amy Roeder) gushes over Renaissance fairs and falconry.
While that dorky duo looks for a love connection, Allie and Travis (Angela Dawe and Zach Muhn) find their relationship at a crossroads after dating for a year. Allie seethes as Travis conceals his emotions in sarcasm and consumer electronics. Written by Kirk Hanley and Maribeth Monroe with Jimmy Carlson, Sex and the Second City doesn't reveal a lot of insight into how social networking alters courtship, but mines the annoying behaviors of the iPhone age. Travis pays more attention to fantasy football and viral cat videos than Allie.
By spending time with its characters, Sex and the Second City builds to some warm, bittersweet moments, such as a failing date that turns tender. When Travis and his father (Kross) have a heart-to-heart about marriage, his dad describes the benefits for married couples to share each other's brains: "She becomes your satellite brain. ... You have no idea how much shit I keep in your mom's brain."
Kross emerges as the ensemble's funniest performer, from Edrick's "sexy" dance to "Let's Get It On" to his befuddlement when disembodied voices from his car's OnStar service and a drive-thru window start fighting over each other. Dawes, alas, seems to have been shortchanged in the casting and receives few memorable funny characters. The show features few improv games, although Kross goes on a speed-dating round with the audience, while Dorinda gets unhelpful tips from the crowd on another date.
Sex and the Second City name-drops local landmarks, like Woodfire Grill as an anniversary tradition, but doesn't feature specific content about the ATL. The evening I attended, former Atlantan Roeder improvised an amusing riff on "The Walking Dead": "I'm gonna load up an RV with a bunch of guns, because that's how we respond to tragedy in Georgia!" If the Alliance hosts the Second City again next year, more Atlanta jokes might be welcome, since the previous productions were more laugh-out-loud funny. Hopefully this year's Sex will get the juices flowing.