The cast of Second City e.t.c.'s A Clown Car Named Desire. ( Lenny Gilmore… (Redeye )
Lights dimmed, music levels rose and, in a matter of just seconds, the entire energy at The Second City e.t.c. Theater warped into something very few could possibly put into words. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill comedy show.
Despite having no idea what to expect, I knew I—and the 200-plus audience members in the theatre—were in for a unique, high-energy and hysterical evening of Chicago’s best comedy.
“A Clown Car Named Desire” burst onto the stage in front of a sold-out audience, and their addictive camaraderie was apparent seconds into the performance.
Characters and skits were based on just about everything, from off-brand Sunny Delight to Mayor Emanuel’s fieriness. Throw in some more comedy about “catfishing” and hooking up with a Smurf? And yep, you have yourself a show you will never see on any other stage. Trust me, that’s exactly what you want.
Carisa Barreca, Brooke Breit, Mike Kosinski, Michael Lehrer, Punam Patel and Chris Witaske make up the six-person troupe, which has been writing and performing as one tight-knit group since March.
“We all improvise together and then pitch scenes to each other and bring in written pieces; it’s a collaboration of improv writing pitches,” said Barreca, who is performing in her first revue on the e.t.c. stage.
The sextet was formed one person at a time by administrators within The Second City—similar to how producers at “Saturday Night Live” hire cast members—but it didn’t take long for the group to gel.
“We were forced to be together,” Breit joked as the group erupted into laughter. “You don’t get to pick [the group], and then [we’re] all in a room together just trying to figure out what our collective voice is, and that’s what the show is.”
You would never guess this unit was formed just nine months ago; their connection is all too hilarious and creativity oozes from each scene. Their ability to control the pace of their material is downright god-like.
“A Clown Car Named Desire” keeps its material fresh, focusing skits on memes and pop-culture references that most any audience could relate to. I shed actual tears while laughing when three players acted as characters who worked at American Apparel, wearing bright spandex, hipster glasses and floppy scarves while pretending to ride just the frame of a bicycle through Wicker Park.
“It’s a theater that’s always prided itself on being relevant, being a reflection of what’s going on. It’s theater, but the fourth wall is kinda down and we’re ourselves on stage,” Lehrer said. “It makes it a different, unique theater experience.”
Breit agreed, adding how imperative it is for skits to not only be timely, but funny in the cast’s own eyes, too.
“We’re still given the freedom to do stupid stuff that tickles us, too,” she said. “Whether it’s going to be relevant nine months from now or not, if it makes us laugh, we’re allowed to do it. That’s what’s really special about this place, too.”
Kosinski adds that many of the characters, no matter how crazy, are definitely shades of each cast member.
“I might not actually do this, but I wouldn’t do something so far from this,” he said, chuckling.
The show runs more than two hours, but time escapes you as the performance moves quickly, keeping your attention from one end of the stage to the other, with dance performances, Cirque du Soleil-like acts and even a few punchy, five-second skits thrown in for a quick laugh.
Chicago-area native Witaske couldn’t be happier working his “dream job” in his favorite city.
“We have the best of both coasts here. We can get away with doing our own thing here, and it feels like a little clubhouse,” he said.
“I like just how our show ties together. I think we did a good job with the show of putting a nice bow on the end. All of a sudden, everything starts weaving together, and there’s these moments in our show where the audience will be like, ‘[Gasp!] That’s the thing from earlier [in the show]!’ ”
“I feel like when you come here, you’re coming to a party,” Patel said. “And you’re not allowed to talk during the party. But it is really fun ... and if we mess up? The audience celebrates that.”
Breit adds that not knowing what you are going to get is the best way to come into the theater.
“I think the two things about our show [are] you’re going to laugh and it’s not what you expected it’s gonna be,” she said.
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