|Kimberly Michelle Vaughn, singing about the Zodiac|
At Piper's Alley, we were seated in the second row, which made me happy before the thing even began—close to the action—and we settled in to watch the venerable Chicago troupe's 107th revue, "Algorithm Nation or the Static Quo."
It was the sort of boisterous fun you'd expect from Second City: not genius, not dreck, but a series of sketches and songs designed to poke fun at our current cultural moment. Not the easiest thing to do, considering how our national conversation has devolved into continual low farce, no satire necessary. Though given the overarching premise—something about Facebook and its grip on our lives—let's just say I felt that the evening ended with whole wings of possibility left unexplored. Maybe Facebook is already too closely and creepily intertwined into our lives to step back and observe it with the necessary critical distance. I hope not.
Some sketches ended too soon. I savored the hard gaze that Nate Verrone, as an Uber driver, shot into his rear view mirror as his passenger, a bubbly Emma Pope, prattled on about her birthright tour of Israel. I wanted to get to know that guy better, but the bit ended almost as soon as it began.
Some sketches went on too long: Ryan Asher's bawdy female Trump supporter whipping up a crowd for an appearance by His Orange Enormity, all leg kicks and pussy jokes that went both on forever and nowhere. Donald Trump is gross as he is; he doesn't need to absorb a cheeseburger through his anus. She was much better as a young kid sounding out his mother's boyfriend. Pope and Jeffrey Murdoch also had a sweet moment at an eighth grade dance.
One performer stood out—Kimberly Michelle Vaughn. My wife and I afterward agreed that she has the ... I don't what to call it. The sparkle. A certain joyous fierceness, a fire, a look in her eye that just put her on the next level. She was part of an ensemble, singing a loopy song about astrology, yet somehow she just sold it more. I hope her cast mates don't hate me, or her, for saying it. Maybe they shine more on other nights. And one hesitates to predict the future, given the crucial role of luck. But now at least I can say I told you so.
Tyler Davis was also very good—he also has presence—though both he and Vaughn were wasted in a sketch where they endure the clueless goodwill of their new white neighbors. Maybe I didn't like the bit because it skewers the kind of obliviousness of which I myself am guilty. I can't be the judge of that. But it seemed to me a concept done to death decades ago, It was like a cartoon set on a desert island or in a dungeon: it has to be done really well to merit doing at all.
Not that an old joke can't be fluffed up and used anew.
There was some business at the end of the night when Davis takes an audience member hostage, and fate dictated that the audience member be me. As he quickstepped me out of the theater, he asked me who I had come with, and I pointed to my wife and son.
"Which one should live?" he asked, or words to that effect.
"My wife," I said, immediately. "I have another son."
That got a big laugh out of the audience. Later, I wondered where the line had come from, and realized, not without a slight shiver of horror, that I was re-casting a trope from Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian.
In his "Speculations About the Nile," he speaks of what he calls the Land of the Deserters: Egyptian soldiers who revolted from the Egyptians and joined the Ethiopians. As they fled, their commander tried to stop them. Herodotus writes:
Psammetichus heard of it, and pursued them. When he came up with them, he entreated them mightily: he would have them, he said, not desert their household gods and their wives and children. At this, it is said, one of their number showed him his prick and said, "Wherever I have this, I will have wives and children."Not quite the same line, but a similar spirit. The evening reminded me that I should make a point of seeing The Second City more often than I do. Though next time, not on the aisle.