January 28, 2003

Comics in training triumph

The Second City Training Center is what it sounds like--a training center for up-and-coming comedic talent. So it follows that my expectations of Segue were a little bit lower than for the normal Second City. While there were parts that might not have been clean enough for the main stage, Segue is a good production that has a great dollars-to-laughs ratio. It's cheap and it's funny.

Donny's Skybox Studio Theater is a smallish theater with seating for about 80. It is home to the testing/training grounds of one of the premier comedy groups in the nation, the Second City. Occupying the fourth floor of Piper's Alley, patrons can watch parts of "Tony and Tina's Wedding" or catch the moviegoers at the Loews below. Most importantly, it is home to Segue the brand new show directed by Bina Martin.

The title Segue suggests transition or a new scooter; this show takes the former, leaving the latter for yuppies. It is a collection of stories about six people who have entered the incorrect industry and are trying to figure out what went wrong. It begins and ends with the same scene, which, to me, provides a nice conclusion (it also helps that the particular scene is funny, so there's no harm in repeating it). The majority of the show finds the cast exploring different careers. The most memorable are the gym teacher, the rap star, and the clown. With only six members, there is a certain amount of forced interaction, which adds greatly to the show. How often do you see or even think about a clown in gym class?

The most interesting aspect of the show, technically speaking, is the use of a video projector and a screen hanging from the rafters above the stage. The cast filmed a series of shots all around Chicago and their movie is shown in conjunction with the comedy. A short clip prefaces each live scene, and from the clip the audience learns the setting. For example, before seeing a musical scene, there is a clip that shows a bar with live music. This novel approach to transitions works very well. We travel to a retirement castle, several houses, a school, McDonalds, and a hospital, most of them seamlessly moving from one to the next. This is not to say that the show wasn't glitch free. There was a short struggle with the projector at the beginning, but once the show started, it worked well. It was, I will add, a low budget production--it seemed as if the camera was some sort of home movie camera. A slightly less bumpy movie would add to the effect, but since I was there for comedy, it's tough to find too much fault in a few uneven film sequences.

The comedy aspect of the show comes when each of the characters explores other careers. The gym teacher teaches high school students Sex Ed (no, not the clown--he takes normal gym, like football). The discussion starts with abstinence, but when one girl asks about the pill, the teacher passes her whistle to another student and tells him to keep watch for the principal. I'll let you imagine what is said, and you'll be on the right track if you're thinking about high school boys and girls and virginity and STDs and the likes. One example: a student asks what a urinary tract disorder is. The teacher responds that it is 700 trips to the bathroom--in three days.

Segue is probably not quite as good as the other shows available at the Second City, but it is certainly a better value. I would argue that it is worth a trip to the Near North, an interesting area in and of itself. Personally, I'm looking forward to catching a few more shows at Skybox.