Things are grim right now. As our daft bull of a president barrels head-first into war, it’s tough to find anything to laugh about. At this exact moment of frisson, when we find ourselves looking behind us to see who’s there, our human defenses search for something funny amid the madness.
Thoughtful and well-executed, Second City’s newest show, Woodward to Your Mother, provides the perfect elixir. The inventiveness of laugh-to-keep-from-crying humor does not elude the players of Second City. They get it. They know themselves, the audience and the pulse of the street.
How refreshing. How necessary.
An opening in-your-face rap song about the affairs of our fair city (and the hilarious misconceptions about being a Detroiter) quickly puts the six pro comedians in the driver’s seat.
One of the early skits, a spoof on the modern office world, examines the hard-heartedness of cubicle existence. E-mail has become the most intimate form of communication and the “semicolon-dash-parentheses” is the preferred way to express happiness. The lack of human contact has created a zombie breed of worker; when the “new guy” walks into this sterile area and speaks to people face to face, utter terror ensues. “I only speaking in binaries!” the drones scream. The physical comedy is nothing short of athletic; the Skeltonesque facial expressions are hilarious.
Flanked by shorter vignettes such as the “Docta Sista” bit, the troupe kicks full-throttle into the un-PC. Docta Sista is a fist-raising, Black Power-infused, New Age doctor whose militant assistant plays a djembe. The physician heals her lily-white patients with the rhythms of Africa while she and her aide yell “Right on!” after every successful healing.
The zenith of the show comes from a skit that mocks America’s current state of affairs with Iraq. Likening a downtrodden Hamtramck to the modern-day United States, the enclave’s mayor is set in front of a council of faceless evildoers. After a consultation with the city’s Bar Association (a dig at Hamtramck’s ubiquitous watering holes), Hamtramck decides to wage war on Royal Oak (known for it’s microbreweries). With the help of only one small town, Pleasant Ridge (one character begs, “Is that a real city?”), Hamtramck wreaks havoc on the Starbucks-drinking, S&M gear-wearing, bar-scene lemmings of Royal Oak. Afterward, as Hamtramckites find themselves in the same predicament (poverty, racism, etc.) postwar with Royal Oak, the laughter stops. The message is loud and clear.
I saw no weak link in the cast. Each actor brings highly stylized and unique talent to the show, and they work in seamless cohesion. With the exception of a couple of quickie dud vignettes, the show is ready to go. The musical direction is an accoutrement, not a distraction; the issues are topical and substantial; the writing is clever and not gratuitous.
As Docta Sista would say, it’s “Right on! Uh-hmmmmm."
Woodward to your Mother officially opens Thursday, March 20, at Second City (2301 Woodward Ave., Detroit). Call 313-965-2222 for more information.Eve Doster is the Metro Times listings editor. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org