Saturday, June 01, 2002

Rivercan’t or The Traficanterbury Tales or A Humorless Celtic Dance Company Made Us Change the Title (Second City--Cleveland/14th Street Theatre)

SECOND CITY opens new home in Cleveland

What do Alan Arkin, Joan Rivers, Robert Klein, John Belushi, John Candy, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, George Wendt, Shelley Long, Jim Belushi and Chris Farley have in common? They are all former members of The Second City. What do George Pete Caleodis, Cody Dove, Coleen Doyle, Jack Hourigan, Quinn Patterson and Dana Quercioli have in common? They too are members of The Second City. Except, instead of their having cut their teeth in Chicago, at the company’ s original home, the latter group is here in Cleveland at the newest setting for the famed comedy organization.

Second City has been called “A Temple of Satire” by Time Magazine. The New York Times stated that, “the entire recent tradition of American satire can be summed up in three words: The Second City.”

Recently opened in the Hanna Building in the heart of Playhouse Square, the Cleveland venue is the fifth location in North American to feature a Second City troupe. Other cities include Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas and Toronto. The local performance space is a newly built contemporary large black box theatre, which seats 300. Patrons sit at tables in comfortable chairs in an arrangement which makes for easy viewing. Food and drink are available at moderate prices. Acoustics are adequate though it was sometimes hard to hear some of the members when the music was played as they spoke.

The show consists of two-40 minute acts interspersed with 30 to 45 minutes of improvisation in which cast members create scenes based on suggestions from the audience. (Think the TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”) The shows, which will change about every three months, are written by the cast and the director.

The opening production, is entitled “Rivercan’t or The Traficanterbury Tales or A Humorless Celtic Dance Company Made Us Change the Title of Our Show.” The latter segment of the title refers to complaints by Riverdance organization over the show’s original title, “Burning Riverdance or The Traficanterbury Tales.” The title is a little misleading. There was a takeoff on Riverdance, but the Traficant reference is misleading, as there was only one reference to the errant Congressman.

In fact, the Cleveland connection, as a whole, was not very well developed. There were references to Mayor Jane Campbell, Halle Berry and Art Modell but there is so much more that makes up the humor of this area.

The improv segments didn’t work as well as should be expected. The cast didn’t seem swift enough to fully develop clever concepts. Hopefully their skills will improve with experience.

During the scripted segments some cast members and the production were inconsistent. Cody Dove and Jack Hourigan were wonderfully funny and totally involved in their presentations. The other cast members varied greatly in their comedy abilities. Again, hopefully this will improve with experience.

Show highlights included a hysterical game of “Pictionary” where gender roles were exposed; the audience’s participation as high school band members; the dancing wheels which was performed while sitting on office chairs; a visit to the psychiatrist; and the sounds of Riverdance.

Weaker sections were the firefighter segment, a high school graduation ceremony, a space walk, a stripper scene, and a chaotic final number which attempted to take the audience on a drive around the area.

Capsule judgement: Here’s hoping that the troupe continues to do what it does well and grows in their presentational abilities. If that happens, Second City will become an exciting place for Clevelanders to go on a regular basis.