Everybody loves some Obama. Even your staunchly conservative dad, who scoffs at the Clintons and snarls at the welfare state, will, when asked to opine on the junior senator, get soft in the eyes and moon, "He's so smiley." The newest Second City revue, a characteristically accomplished evening of black-out sketches, songs and a little light improv, uses the national crush on Obama as a binding agent. Every cast member plays Barack in rotation, painting a portrait of the candidate as a medium-size, reasonably diverse comedy troupe: "Hello, black voters/gay citizens/soccer moms, I am Barack Obama and I am also you."
The cast takes the premise and runs with it, punching out laughs like the consummate professionals they are. Brian Gallivan stands out for his awkward height and his feathery comic touch. He and Brad Morris trade jibes in a beautifully characterized sketch about two blue-collar buddies, one of whom happens to be gay, trading jibes and sex stories. "You and me, we're the same!" says Morris, playing straight. "We are similar," Gallivan responds, with a sotto voce delivery that catapults the line right past "telling" and into "hilarious."
In addition to the Obama-centered bits, the review features many sketches on the theme of identity, politics and identity politics, along with goofy dancing and one or two potty jokes. Despite the inclusion of a big number called "It's Good to be Black," the show's most racially telling moment came during an improv segment: Joe Canale and Ithamar Enriquez, playing two crotchety bluesmen, asked the audience for a word to base a song around and got stuck with something obscure. Canale was confounded, but the hispanic Enriquez was one of the few people in the theatre who knew the word as a Latin American cooking ingredient. The two performers leapt on the moment, wrapping the awkwardness in the otherness, flipping it over and making it palatable to an overwhelmingly white audience in under a minute. That's how it's done!
If the evening is rarely bust-a-gut funny, it might be because of the subject matter. Cozy liberal hypocrisies have lost their power to enrage in the past few years, along with much of their power to amuse. True, there's something absurd in canonizing a political figure that we can all see ourselves in and something delusional in the idea that such a figure could unite our fractious nation. But at least we want to be united, or want to want to be united. On a good day, that's what Obama represents. Second City can't mock him without falling, just a little, under his easy charm.