Review: 'Sex and the Second City' funny, a little flawed

Don’t be sucked in by the title. “Sex and the Second City” isn’t a Chicago-based musical version of the popular HBO series.

“The Second City” refers to the famous improvisational theater troupe that has spread its tentacles to practically every major city, and whose members helped create the show. And by “sex,” the authors mean gender, rather than procreation. (Although there is an uproarious scene of simulated copulation — fully clothed — in one scene that might justify the title.)

But the touring musical at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall this week is still a funny, entertaining examination of modern love. Maybe just not quite the way you were expecting.

Denise and Richard are divorcing after seven years of marriage (although it feels like nine to Richard, the number he guesses on their anniversary). Their lawyers, Mark and Samantha (no, not that Samantha), although vituperative in negotiations, are unknowingly carrying on an online affair with each other as “HabeasCorpusHottie” and “WellHungJury.”

The plot includes flashbacks to Denise and Richard’s relationship; couples therapy for the two, in which they are instructed to date other people; and snippets of their dating attempts. But don’t trouble yourself much with the through line.

The show was created from a series of Second City sketches, and it’s really just loosely held together by the thread of the couple’s relationship.

But that’s OK, because the musical isn’t pretending to be any great revelation — just a fun way to hold a mirror up to the way we love and hate, come together and grow apart.

When the show works, it works superlatively, prodding the audience into such sustained giggles that they sometimes drown out the beginning of the next scene. When Denise and Richard are instructed to invite over a couple they think is healthy, the result is a cutthroat game of Pictionary that pits the boys against the girls.

Denise and her childhood friend are so telepathically attuned, Denise can guess “Bart Starr” from a dot on the paper in two seconds flat. Of course, that enrages the men, whose clues are laughably literal (wait until you see the French Foreign Legion drawing), and they must finally cheat to “win,” so they can celebrate in a most obnoxious fashion.

Does it further the story line? Nope. But then, it’s so much fun to watch, who cares?

True to Second City’s roots, there is an element of improv in the show. In a scene where Mark and Samantha are online with each other, they prompt the audience (confused and reluctant until they catch on) to fill in the blanks, Mad Libs style, of their messages to each other.

Later, in Richard’s ill-advised appearance on “The Dating Game,” the cast brings an audience member up as the woman choosing among three cast members. And Denise improvises verses of a song based on a hypothetical date with a front-row patron.

The four cast members are likable, talented and energetic. Randall Harr is a showboat actor, fond of the over-large gesture and the unsubtle touch, but he’s adept at coaxing laughs from the audience. He nearly brings down the house in a mimed scene where he gets ready for — and fantasizes about — an upcoming date, and again in “The Dating Game” sketch as a flaming but “hetero-curious” bachelor.

Katie Caussin as Denise, et al., has a lovely groundedness, and a pretty voice. Beth Crosby (Samantha, ensemble) has a deft Téa Leoni touch with comedy that pits her desperately held dignity against various comic humiliations.

Mike Shreeman is the sole actor who plays only one role — the end-of-his-rope Richard. Shreeman imbues his character with a wry and self-deprecating demeanor that keeps him sympathetic.

The show keenly observes the male/female dynamic, and some of its best moments come from utter recognition of the sketches’ underlying truths. It does have slow spots, and some of the sketches are stronger than others.

The production is fairly bare-bones, with minimal lighting, set and costumes. The music, under musical director Trey Stone’s guidance, is enjoyable but forgettable, with several of the numbers seeming to be pitched too low for the actors’ voices. And the choreography is nothing you couldn’t come up with yourself.

Ultimately, the show is more bitter than sweet regarding relationships, with the couple renewing their vows, this time with utter honesty: “I promise to hide the sadness I feel inside from absolutely everyone,” promises Richard. “And I promise to discuss mine with everyone but you,” Denise swears.

But still, it’s 90 minutes of poking good-natured fun at our own mating habits. If laughter is really the best medicine, maybe that alone will help cure our relationship ills.

If you go

What: “Sex and the Second City”

Where: Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, 13350 Edison Parkway, Fort Myers

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday matinees

Admission: $16 to $31

Information: 481-4849 or www.bbmannpah.com

© 2006 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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