These days I’m for almost anything that reduces stress and releases endorphins, and that is what Alliance Theatre Artistic Director Susan Booth says she’s up to in The Second City: Peach Drop, Stop and Roll, a series of comedy sketches and improvisations at the Hertz Stage through Dec. 13. For the second year in a row, the Alliance has invited Chicago’s famed Second City to use Atlanta as its subject, and no cow is too sacred to be lampooned.
You probably know that Second City (now 50 years old!) has nurtured a veritable Who’s Who in American comedy: John Belushi, Mike Myers, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray—and Tina Fey, arguably the hottest performer/writer in show business. You will see none of these luminaries on the Hertz Stage.
Instead, there are six talented performers—three from Chicago and three from Atlanta—performing sketches by Second City head writer/director Matt Hovde and writer Seth Weitberg. They are Randall Harr, Anthony Irons, Niki Lindgren, Amber Nash, Amy Roeder, and Steven Westdahl. Mr. Hovde notes that “a Second City show is put together like a giant puzzle with different scenes and different actors with their own distinct styles talking about completely unrelated topics.”
Second City is most known for their improv, but Peach Drop features more scripted sketches, many of which are very clever and funny. Being a theatre geek, I must confess here that improv is not really my cup of tea (I’m well aware that improv actors will tell you that this is the truest, most elemental form of theatre.) And the opening night audience appeared to be having quite a grand and giddy time. Incidentally, the more you know about Atlanta, the more you’ll appreciate Peach Drop’s humor.
Test: Do you know about the Pink Pig? If not, you aren’t an “old time” Atlantan. Not to worry; there are plenty of other Atlanta tidbits that work very well for satire: the current mayoral election, the Real Housewives of Atlanta, the elegant (!) Clermont Lounge, the Colonnade, and East Cobb haughtiness. Beneath the frivolity, there’s a serious undercurrent concerning Atlanta’s racial problems, past and present. This is well handled, yet it doesn’t spoil the gaiety of the occasion, as Tennessee Williams would say.
By the way, I think the “Hanoi Jane” jokes have worn mighty thin; if Ms. Fonda has not proven her humanity in dozens of ways (the Georgia Teen Pregnancy Program, for one) since the troubled days of Vietnam, then let her critics rave on forever (and they will). Also, I must say that I do not find AIDS jokes funny in any way, shape, or form. In an evening devoted to silliness and laughter (which we all need), these lapses in taste are quite unnecessary.
But in the main, levity rules, which is as it should be. Go and have a good time; you’ll appreciate the talent and enormous energy of the performers—they aim to please, and they do.