The modern world, poised between self-parody and self-destruction, often seems absurd enough. But with the help of a gifted troupe of young actors, those absurdities become all the more glaring -- and hilarious.

Appearing at the Cellar Door last night (through Wednesday), Second City, the farm team of contemporary comedy, threw the foilbes of society in front of the stage lights for closer scrutiny. The Chicago-based company (whose alumni include eveyone from David Steinberg to half the cast of "Saturday Night Live") had the soldout crowd screaming with laughter -- at both the actors and themselves.

American tourists, sex therapy testtube babies, rape trials, computer dating and night club smoothies were among the subjects that fell under their comedic ax. The sketches, developed from improvised material, bristled with spontaneity and liveliness that was infectious. With minimal sets and costumes, the actors were free to conjure up a visual and verbal atmosphere that was riotous in its wit, yet also rich in subtle human detail.

Second City is an accomplished group of actors/comedians who are suggesting that, while the world might be ludicrous and contradictory, it's also the only game in town -- and we all might as well play along.