“Can North Korea Be Stopped?” next month’s Atlantic magazine asks.
No! says Chicago’s comedy troupe Second City. A running joke in the troupe’s new “Almost Accurate Guide to America: Divided We Stand” is that North Korea’s missiles have launched and caught us off-guard. We have 15 minutes ’til doomsday.
The panic leads to quickhitting routines and upbeat improvisation in the Kennedy Center’s Theater Lab, where Second City brought a chapter of “Almost Accurate Guide” last summer. That version, performed during the summer heat of the election, seemed to have more of an edge. Despite the occasional profanity and even a gently confessional abortion statement, this show seems light as lemonade.
Not like Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” — something that tangy would come from the much more daring wing of Second City that will bring its second all-black show (after “Black Side of the Moon”) to Woolly Mammoth in December. Even here, Second City is not so much a troupe anymore as a hydra-headed franchise.
This Kennedy Center show isn’t for kiddies, yet one of its cheerful improvs lures a high school volunteer onstage. During the performance I saw, the banter stayed frothy between Katie Kershaw and Ryan Asher, playing talk-show gabbers and their bright young audience member.
This cast seems to have an especially good time playing together, and they blend well embodying a bunch of stereotypes at a pre-protest meetup.
“Okay, guys,” someone says, only to be greeted by a protest: “Please don’t gender the group.”
“This is why we lost,” Angela Alise declares at a junction that is pointed and hilarious.
Alise is awesome slinging race-based trash talk as she plays the sister of Tyler Davis’s character — black siblings watching a Cubs-White Sox game with Ross Taylor and Chucho Perez as nonblack friends acutely tongue-tied by the jibes. Kershaw is splendid, too, spewing an awkward rap alongside the rapid-fire Davis in a potent bit the group has used before.
Trump jokes? Not so much, although Mike Pence is a target and the whole show is plainly being surveilled by Russia. And while the group still excels at drive-by potshots (look out, Fox News), this show has some unexpectedly pensive passages. A ginger blind-date skit is almost breakable in its vulnerability, and Alise and Asher have monologues that challenge audiences to listen and empathize.
My date wanted bigger, sharper comic pay dirt — more explosive laughter. This isn’t electric material; it’s genial. But outright dud skits are rare during the hour and 45 minutes (with intermission), and director Billy Bungeroth’s ensemble ringleads the audience like jolly camp counselors. Rather than fuming at America’s divisions, “Divided We Stand” mocks and unites because — don’t forget — North Korea’s about to put us all out of our misery. The summery spirit is a balm.
Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW. 202-467-4600. kennedy-center.org.
Dates: Through Aug. 13.