Second City’s ‘Chaos’ shows the absurdity all around us
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org April 7, 2013 11:40PM
From left: Steve Waltien, Holly Laurent, Edgar Blackmon, Ross Bryant, Tawny Newsome and Katie Rich in "Let Them Eat Chaos" at Second City. Photo by Clayton Hauck
‘Let Them Eat Chaos’
When: Open run
Where: The Second City, 1616 N. Wells
Info: (312) 337-3992; www.SecondCity.com
Run time: Two hours with one intermission
Updated: May 10, 2013 6:06AM
When a show arrives with a title like “Let Them Eat Chaos,” you might expect all things revolutionary and turbulent. But there is no guillotine or Reign of Terror in The Second City’s 101st revue. Instead, the upheaval comes in the form of stylistic experimentation. The result is a show — directed by the gifted Matt Hovde, the Jeff Award winner behind “Studs Terkel’s Not Working” — infused with music and projections and literary conceits.
Throughout, there is the sense that we are all living in our own personal Absurdistan (apologies to that wonderful writer, Gary Shteyngart) — a world in which terrible things might be happening, and no one gets romantic love or marriage quite right, but in which cat videos thrive and social media outlets of every variety are not just distractions, but the sure indication of a pervasive level of distraction and stupidity.
Consider the woman (Katie Rich), who can walk through life in a totally oblivious state — glued to her mobile device while her daughter begs for attention, random men engage in sex with her, the world passes her by and Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” plays in the background.
A dim-witted sailor (Steve Waltien), heads off to sea, passes through the Panama Canal, and is interrupted by a Siren (the seductive-voiced Tawny Newsome), only to get a history lesson in American foreign policy and financial corruption. And while we’re in Latin America, a Bohemian poet dad (Ross Bryant) encounters his estranged daughter (Holly Laurent), also a poet, in a sketch that plays fast and loose with artificial mating techniques and magic realism. As the father proclaims: If you try to make order out of a chaotic world, you are fighting the nature of the universe.
Sometimes there are historical flashbacks, as in a World War II scene between a black American G.I. (Edgar Blackmon), and a Scottish soldier (Waltien) who is terrified of losing his genitals. In another far more twisted sketch, set in 1918 Vienna, a deaf music teacher (Waltien) tries to instill discipline in his violin student (Laurent), with the horrors to come in Europe looming in the background.
In a flash forward, an archivist displays holograms of early 21st century people who emerge from a computer and suggest just how inane they were. This point is reinforced in an expertly done rap song in which Blackmon gets all fired up about equal rights and injustice, while Bryant bemoans the fact that “The Hobbit” was turned into a trilogy.
In addition to the Siren songs and rap, Newsome plays a singer-songwriter encouraged to put a happier twist on her sad songs, and the cast of six gathers to form a goofy toy instrument orchestra. Musical director Julie N. Nichols does fine work on the keyboard, mandolin, gong and Wurlitzer all along the way.
There is a classroom scene in which Waltien plays an art teacher and his elementary school students are asked to draw cats (an audience suggestion), with totally wacko results. But maybe, as one of the show’s funniest sketches suggests, you can blame almost everything on the names parents give their kids. More likely, though, there’s a Darwinian explanation to all the chaos: Cute babies are more nurtured, so we are condemned to live in a society defined by survival of the cutest.