The often outrageous Second City serves crisp comedy capers.

Fresh & Funny 

The often outrageous Second City serves crisp comedy capers.

Seems like everything has expiration dates these days, from the born-on dates on six-packs to the wilt warnings on bags of shredded lettuce. But one product that has always needed an expiration date is sketch comedy. The talented Second City troupe has been guilty of dredging up skits that were so wrinkled and rotten, they befouled the air. Thankfully, no warning labels are necessary for their newest effort, No Shirt, No Shoes, No Weapons of Mass Destruction, which is fresh, frenetic, and an absolute blast.

One of the first bits, a send-up of the way grocery stores push their bonus cards on hapless customers ("Savings are just a swipe away!"), swerves from the comical to the borderline offensive as one of the store's "special friends," the developmentally challenged Leroy, shows up to bag the groceries. It's dangerous, yes, but that's where sketch comedy should be -- on the edge and flirting with rudeness, as the laughs roll on.

Take, for instance, the scene between George W. and Bill Clinton as they commiserate in the Oval Office. "I can blow the shit out of anything," laments Bush, but he complains that he's restrained in so many other ways. "I feel like a hummingbird with a cinderblock tied to its nuts." Local references abound, and although they lean on the stale Clevelanders-as-victims mentality, it never gets bogged down in "poor us" bathos. Even when the scenes as scripted are a bit lame -- as is the case with a confusing psychiatric therapy session involving a cat, a chimp, and a Tasmanian devil -- the cast turns potential yawns into yelps of laughter with its energy and inventiveness. In this case, Kiff Vanden Heuvel as the drooling Taz transforms his grunts and snarls into a series of great nonverbal punch lines.

The rest of the cast is equally on its game, with Cody Dove providing a wry, stable centerpiece (he's a trip as the toupeed Ted Henry, who's "still Dick Goddard's bitch"). Katie Caussin is a stitch as a woman on a first date with a moronic internet buddy ("You were funnier in the chat room"). But they get together, admitting in their duet that in these desperate dating times, "You're the Best That I Can Do." Randall Harr vents comically in a scene about a beerless camping trip led by a Promise Keeper, and Nathan Cockerill peaks as a goal-oriented creep on the Kelleys Island ferry: "I just wanna make it with two skanks from Sandusky." Waifish Lauren Dowden is amusingly edgy as a corporate double agent, ferreting out obscene screen savers among the cubicle dwellers ("That's a picture of a vagina!" "No, it's an Easter lily.").

The one quibble is that these very capable performers seem content to stay within their own zones of safety. In the future, it will be interesting to see if they can stretch, taking bolder risks in creating individual and memorable characters. That's when Second City Cleveland will truly hit the jackpot.

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