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posted: 8/11/2011 11:00 AM

'Sex & the Second City' sends up dating in the digital age

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  • Clockwise from left, Carisa Barreca, Jimmy Carlson, Amanda Blake Davis and Shad Kunkle star in "Sex & The Second City: A Romantic Dot Comedy," in a pre-Chicago run at Arlington Heights' Metropolis Performing Arts Centre.

      Clockwise from left, Carisa Barreca, Jimmy Carlson, Amanda Blake Davis and Shad Kunkle star in "Sex & The Second City: A Romantic Dot Comedy," in a pre-Chicago run at Arlington Heights' Metropolis Performing Arts Centre.

  • Dorinda (Amanda Blake Davis) stumbles through the latest in a series of first dates (played by Jimmy Carlson) in the Second City production, "Sex & the Second City: A Romantic Dot Comedy" running through Sept. 17 at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights.

      Dorinda (Amanda Blake Davis) stumbles through the latest in a series of first dates (played by Jimmy Carlson) in the Second City production, "Sex & the Second City: A Romantic Dot Comedy" running through Sept. 17 at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights.

  • Edrick (Shad Kunkle, left) gets more than he bargained for during a speed date with an unsettling stranger (Jimmy Carlson) in the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's "Sex & The Second City: A Romantic Dot Comedy."

      Edrick (Shad Kunkle, left) gets more than he bargained for during a speed date with an unsettling stranger (Jimmy Carlson) in the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's "Sex & The Second City: A Romantic Dot Comedy."

  • Longtime couple Allie (Carisa Barreca, second from right) and Travis (Jimmy Carlson) get upstaged in the romance department by a recently infatuated couple (played by Shad Kunkle, left and Amanda Blake Davis) in "Sex & the Second City: A Romantic Dot Comedy" now playing at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre.

      Longtime couple Allie (Carisa Barreca, second from right) and Travis (Jimmy Carlson) get upstaged in the romance department by a recently infatuated couple (played by Shad Kunkle, left and Amanda Blake Davis) in "Sex & the Second City: A Romantic Dot Comedy" now playing at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre.

 
 

Second City shows tend to travel in a pretty consistent direction: northwest from Chicago's Old Town to downtown Arlington Heights and the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, site of several Second City remounts.

But Second City reverses the route with "Sex & The Second City: A Romantic Dot Comedy," a funny, energetic show about dating in the digital age. The six-week run at the Metropolis amounts to an out-of-town tryout for this show -- a sendup of online dating -- that premiered earlier this year in Arizona in a slightly altered form, under a slightly altered title. This incarnation will reportedly inaugurate Second City's newest stage which opens this fall at 4608 N. Wells St., Chicago.

Compactly directed by Northlight Theatre artistic director BJ Jones, who fashions what is essentially a series of sketches into a coherent narrative, the show boasts a talented, very likable quintet of Second City veterans.

Among them is Fred Willard ("WALL-E," "Best in Show," "Everybody Loves Raymond"), who appears via videotape as the spokesman for the fictional online dating site, iLove. Appearing live are Carisa Barreca, Jimmy Carlson, Shad Kunkle and Jeff Award winner Amanda Blake Davis. They take on multiple roles, including that of a commitment-averse man-child named Travis (Carlson) and his attractive, long-suffering, girlfriend Allie (Barreca), and a pair of nerdy, endlessly optimistic serial daters poignantly played by Kunkle and Davis.

The characters are stereotypical, yet these actors make us care about them. Kunkle and Davis in particular bring humanity and dignity to their characters. Kunkle plays the endearingly goofy Edrick -- a Medieval Times employee who may be too accommodating for his own good. The terrific Davis plays Dorinda, a quirky charmer who goes on a lot of first dates but never gets invited on a second.

Serving up parallel romantic tales, the show sets the bumpy, longtime relationship of the newly engaged Travis and Allie -- who met the old-fashioned way -- against the efforts of oddball iLove members Edrick and Dorinda, who are committed to finding their soul mates online.

The show combines sketches from The Second City archives with new material by Kirk Hanley and Maribeth Monroe (who several years ago penned a musical about a rocky marriage titled "Sex and the Second City"). It also includes a couple of improvised scenes involving audience interaction. The problem is, it's fairly obvious which sketches are new and which are recycled. And while scenes about speed dating (done quickly and crisply in true Second City style) and a romance novel come to life on a Metra train earn laughs (listen for the calculus joke, it's a hoot), they feel dated. Moreover, they make for a disjointed narrative because they don't fit the show's premise.

A failed bachelor party sketch falls flat as well. And while a scene chronicling sperm racing to fertilize an egg offers an amusing physical comedy interlude, its presence in this show serves as an unnecessary detour.

That said, the "dot comedy" remains on track most of the time. Carlson's insensitive Travis proposing via text message, the OnStar assistant who bullies the hapless Edrick, Davis' cheeky improvised date with an audience member and other sketches make "Sex and The Second City" a ride worth taking.

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