Second City hitches ride on Barack bandwagon
Sure, the cast of the Second City’s new mainstage revue, “Between Barack and a Hard Place,” might have just danced around the political phenomenon of the moment. But since the guy in the title happens to live in their own backyard — and since he appears to have captured the imagination of the multitudes and become the catchall for American identity these days — director Matt Hovde and his writer-performers decided to fully engage with him. They’ve even called on old Abe Lincoln for a bit of help.
The show begins with a sort of “we the people” incantation — “Barack Obama is . . .” — and then lets each of the actors fill in the blanks. This and subsequent related sketches play tellingly on the notion that Obama is not just a multicultural emblem and dreamcatcher, but a kind of funhouse mirror of self- identification.
Soccer moms love him better than their husbands. The world’s “brown people” love him. Kansas-born white people love him. Jews love him. Some gays still love him. (No mention is made of Muslims or Christian evangelists, though this might have added some bite.) Of course, this chameleonlike love potion effect grows increasingly ludicrous.
The revisionism that can shape any president’s legacy is dealt with later, in a sketch about Lincoln (the ever-watchable Brian Gallivan). We are reminded of the recent book that suggested Abe might have been gay, and of Lincoln’s own shocking words about the future of blacks in this country. There also is some joking about presidential assassination that is just plain unfunny.
More happily, amid all this presidential campaign banter, there is the presence of a custom-made, terribly earnest Hillary Clinton in the guise of actress Molly Erdman — a youthful clone in face, hair and body type.
Not surprisingly, terrorism remains a hot topic; it is deftly dealt with in a perfectly cutting sketch that looks at the way TV journalists often reveal the most vulnerable U.S. targets, and in the process, practically supply potential saboteurs with something resembling a how-to manual.
But there is a neat “Borat”-like bit about Slovenia’s membership in “the coalition of the willing”; a wacky song about being socially awkward; sharp quick takes about uniquely Chicago-style contenders in the Olympics and about the rationale of sidewalk smokers; a song (performed by Amber Ruffin) about how good it is to be black now that Middle Eastern terrorists and border-crossing Latinos top the list of undesirables; another song lamenting the fact that no one fears Irish terrorists anymore; a philistine’s audio tour of the Art Institute; a little free-form homage to this city’s dying jazz and blues clubs, and a few standard-issue sketches about bad marriages.
The cast, which also includes Ithamar Enriquez, Joe Canale and Brad Morris, is polished. The pace is fast. The laughs are plentiful but don’t linger very long.