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REVIEW
Holy War, Batman! or The Yellow Cab of Courage
Second City's Experimental Theater Company
Piper's Alley 1608 N. Wells
Open run


A Baby, A Black Jesus and an Arab.....

When Second City's Experimental Theater Company (ETC) troupe began to create their new revue, Holy War, Batman! or The Yellow Cab of Courage,they had to tackle the issue of the September 11 terrorist attacks in a way that would not alienate their audience and, perhaps the most challenging feat, deliver laughter without stooping to the common denominator of late-night TV comedy shows that avoid pushing political buttons and serve up groan-inducing one-liners regarding President Bush.

While there are a few moments of predictable (yet still effective) comedy, the ETC cast surprises with fresh and potent commentary on several issues that orbit around the war, presented through several skits including a pottery class that lacks motivation after they find out about the World Trade Center attacks, an Arabic cab driver's overzealous patriotism, and a baby (portrayed by a chain-smoking, raspy-voiced Cabbage Patch doll) whose innocence was stolen by the terrorists and who wishes he could go back to Saturday morning cartoons.

In an effort to provide breathing room between the Osama bin Laden-related spoofs and scenes of food-aid packages injuring war-weary Afghanis, the cast delights the audience with sketches that do not pertain to the war on terrorism but still provide social commentary. In one scene that takes place within the actual audience, Jesus (played by Second City Detroit import Keegan Key) addresses his 12 apostles at dinner before "leaving for a couple of days." But, at what turns out to be his last supper, Judas presents Jesus with his new press picture. Confused by the light-skinned, blue-eyed man in the picture, the dark-skinned Jesus comments that "the last time I checked, we were from Jerusalem." To the prophet's dismay, when the waiter comes to take their order he asks, "Who's the cool white guy?" and later declares, "I'd follow that guy anywhere!"

At the heart of the show are two recurring situations that ultimately provide the glue that holds the show together. The first involves an Applebee's waitstaff struggling to make profits during the slumped economy. One of the waiters (played by senior member Jack McBrayer) attempts to remedy this situation by rewriting the "birthday song." McBrayer's enthusiasm causes his apathetic co-workers (who include scholars in medieval dramaturgy, African-American studies, English and one who's "six credits away from a degree in Scotch") to query whether or not he has "electrodes attached to [his] scrotum" and demand that he take "the jagmo level down to defcon three."

The second story line that weaves throughout the revue is that of a cabdriver who compensates for his unpopular nationality by giving his customers American flags and blasting tunes such as "Born in the USA." A liberal patron (Samantha Albert) comments, "It looks like Betsy Ross threw up in here."

While picking up many of the one-time characters in the show (among them a monk played by Andy Cobb, who yearns to be connected to the rest of the world by purchasing a palm pilot and flat screen TV from Circuit City), the Arab cab driver (Key) helps the larger cast of characters find their way to a resolution.

What makes this revue so successful is largely the development process that is a trademark of Second City. A formula used for all of its 43 years, a Second City revue is developed through improvisation. During their free late-night improv sets, the cast takes suggestions of words or phrases from the audience and develops them into scenes. Although these skits are reworked and tweaked in rehearsals with the guidance of a director, in this case Josh Funk, mastermind behind the independent film, Garage, much of the spontaneity remains for the live show. Few costumes and props are used, although in this revue a video screen appears to silently narrate the opening scene and later plays a part in a sketch involving CNN. This minimalist approach to comedy is what keeps Second City from becoming watered down despite its ever-growing popularity.

For reservations visit www.secondcity.com or call: 312-337-3992, or toll-free 877-778-4707.

Photo courtesy of The Second City ETC


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