Second City: Red Scare

Photo of (back row) Beth Melewski and Anthony Irons and (front row) Amber Ruffin and Brendan Dowling
(Back row) Beth Melewski
and Anthony Irons
and (front row)
Amber Ruffin and
Brendan Dowling
Photo: Michael Brosilow
In the tradition of the popular comics who were launched from The Second City to Saturday Night Live and Hollywood fame comes Red Scare, a topical mix of cultural and political satire that captures the absurdities of contemporary American life.

Given that our society today is in one of its most polarized periods, it comes as no surprise that at the heart of this evening of comedic sketches and improvisational setups are the issues that divide us as a nation.

The Second City—whose alumni include Alan Arkin, Joan Rivers, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Gilda Radner, Martin Short, Chris Farley and Mike Myers—has a remarkable ability to show how these differences are rooted in the way we think about all sorts of things seemingly unrelated to politics.

The evening begins with three couples chanting conflicting clichés in unison. But whether it's evolution or creation, love or money, or milk or Jack Daniels that we believe in, the implication that our society is floundering in artificial values is never far from the surface in the more than three dozen skits.

A romantic man sets the mood with music, wine, and an elegant table while his girlfriend naps seductively nearby. Only when the fellow has everything just so and goes to wake her up, do we realize that "the girlfriend" is not a human, but a plastic blow-up doll.

At a parent-teacher conference, we learn that our child is not ADD or ADHD, but D-U-M-B. Then we find out why from a mother with a 250-pound maternity clothes-clad toddler whom she rolls around in a Radio Flyer. Like characters out of Morgan Spurlock's Oscar-nominated documentary "Super Size Me," the proud mother skates past the issues of childhood diabetes and heart conditions extolling the virtues of her "unique" progeny.

Photo of (L to R) Sam Albert<br>and Anthony Irons
(L to R) Sam Albert
and Anthony Irons
Photo: Michael Brosilow
The evening builds through frank but funny takes on interracial communications, consciousness during intimate medical exams, underpaid and underappreciated teachers, oversized SUVs, political sex scandals, religious hate-groups dissing gays, too-close-to-home messages for our sainted troops, unionizing overworked Leprechauns, marital infidelity, and black Republicans. And that's all before intermission.

The pace never lags with six well-matched and seasoned ensemble members, allowing the mostly good clean fun (with a pinch of the risqué) to deliver the messages, intentional or otherwise. Local composer and music director Lee Stametz enhances the atmosphere throughout, with a spicy soundtrack and tasty piano riffs.

Photo of (L to R) Anthony Irons and Brendan Dowling
(L to R) Anthony Irons
and Brendan Dowling
Photo: Michael Brosilow
While "Red Scare" conjures memories of McCarthyism to older generations, to younger generations it's definitely neoconservatism and red states (as the show's logo indicates) that we're talking about.

In either case, though, the underlying fear associated with these images is the same: powerful interests using real and imagined enemies as a means to usurp not only our civil liberties but our thoughts.

Clearly in their performance and its details, The Second City comes down on the side of Benjamin Franklin when he said: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Denver Center Attractions presentation of Second City's Red Scare runs through May 21st at the Garner Galleria Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex. 303-893-4100 or

Bob Bows


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