Fast paced and energetic, with sketches and an occasional song laced together with blackout bits, The Second City Does Dallas starts out hot and doesn't stop. The pre-show voiceover reminds audience members to put silencers on their pistols, and, oh yeah, silence their cells phones, too. The show ends with Frank Caeti performing a blustery impassioned rant from a two-story scaffold in the audience, exhorting Texans to continue being Texans, evidently because the comedy world needs us.
Working with the cast in this opening show of Dallas Theater Center's 2012-'13 season, Second City writers Brooke Breit and Ed Furman craft a perfect balance, sinking comedic needles deep while never overly antagonizing either end of the political spectrum.
The direction by Texas Christian University graduate Matt Hovde is deft and creative; action moves swiftly from piece to piece. There's not a bad one in the bunch, a tribute to Hovde's skills at selecting and shaping the numbers. His staging makes use of the entire Potter Rose Performance Hall in the Wyly Theatre, including much action among the audience. Scenic designer Bob Lavallee crafts a comedy club feel in spite of the large scale. Floor seating includes couches and comfy chairs up front and cocktail tables in the back, hovered over by odd chandeliers. Absolutely nothing matches, just like a real comedy club (scenic design by Bob Lavallee). Music by Matthew Loren Cohen, who plays keyboard at the side of the stage, keeps the energy levels high.
Most topical takes on Dallas rarely venture further than making fun of big hair, Highland Park and Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. The Second City Does Dallas does do all that, with lissome Amanda Blake Davis and the stocky Caeti in drag competing for a cheerleading spot, and Martin Garcia quipping that he got pulled over driving through Highland Park for the crime of driving through Highland Park.
But the show dares to go for the jugular, launching with a no-holds-barred opening skit with madcap terrorists in masks interrogating a Dallasite on why the city boasts the most millionaires per capita while significant sections are mired in poverty. The area's religiosity gets pickled with Dallas native Scott Morehead doing a monologue as Big Tex who exhorts that "If Jesus tells us one thing it's that Jesus loves nothing more than flashy displays of wealth." In the cast talk after the show on opening night, Hovde said "Our goal at Second City is to go a little deeper than other troupes do." In The Second City Does Dallas, they succeed.
In a rather naughty bit, Garcia, along with Morehead and John Sabine, portray a trio of gay men bemoaning the inability to get married in the city. After a ribald discussion of cunnilingus, they proclaim "No more Mr. Nice Gay, we're coming for your women. First we'll steal your wife and then we'll flip your house" because "we know how to tell a woman her hair looks good."
A groan-inducing piece on how to commercialize the upcoming 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination is totally wicked and, alas, quite feasible. Slipped in between two light numbers is a short, piercing sketch on unquestioning faith.
The research on topical themes is surprisingly thorough. A skit on a plot by mayor Mike Rawlings to get Dallas declared the state capitol "because Austin is weird and they want to keep it that way," features famous Cowtown poobah Amon Carter back from the dead and still hacked off that the airport was named Dallas-Fort Worth International, and not Fort Worth-Dallas International.
In the traditional skewering of the suburbs so beloved by comedians, Garland comes up short and Plano is raked over the coals multiple times. In a light and sweet bit, Dallas Theater Center resident acting company member Liz Mikel accepts her beau's proposal in Applebee's, once he convinces her eating in franchise restaurants is the closest you get to culture and romance in Plano. Far more sardonic was the upwardly mobile Plano family devolving when dad gets downsized, exposing just how much they were living the lie.
This was a redemption show locally for Second City. The last couple of touring show appearances here were underwhelming. The Second City Does Dallas benefits from a strong core of seasoned Second City alumni (Caeti, Davis and Garcia), sharp newbies (Morehead, Sabine) and the fun effervescence of Liz Mikel.
Friday's show came at the end of a long, rotten week, yet for nearly two hours I did not think for a moment about my many worries. I just laughed loud and often. That is the true gift of good comedy. It makes the world go away in favor if its own refreshingly twisted one.
◊ Click here to read Amy Martin's feature about this show and the art of improv.