For the past fifty years, Chicago’s The Second City has been a launching pad for comedians, actors, and directors, including such luminaries as Bill Murray, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, and more recently Tina Fey, Steve Carell and Mike Myers. The Second City now brings its trademark brand of sketch and improvisational comedy to Orange County’s The Laguna Playhouse in a mostly fresh new concoction cleverly entitled The Second City: Can You Be More Pacific?

Despite its barebones staging, a talented sextet of L.A.-based Second City alums provide laughs aplenty as they skewer “The O.C.”

The Second City: Can You Be More Pacific? blends longer sketches with short blackout skits and a pair of improvised numbers, laugh-getting punch lines beating out fizzlers about four times out of five.

The show opens with pizzazz— a song-sketch which takes place in a Laguna Beach bar where each patron is the last of his or her breed: the last un-nipped-&-tucked woman in the O.C., the last gay man in Laguna beach, and the last orange tree in Orange County.  (The latter is actually portrayed by a singing albeit artificial bush.)

Another longer sketch imagines what life in the O.C. would be like if its undocumented Mexican workers were to execute a “reconquista” of formerly Mexican lands. Obviously, there’d be no more valet parking, no Mexican maid to breastfeed La Señora’s baby, no one to do the gardening…  ¡Ay Dios mío!

A sketch about a car which needs no gas because it “runs on liberal bullshit” like “Health care should be free and available to everybody” generates peals of laughter from a conservative Orange County audience.

Out of town visitors may scratch their heads when folks around them guffaw at jokes about “The Great Park” and “The Cougars.”  At least one sketch, about the once-a-year train-mooning event in Laguna Niguel, overstays its welcome, but most are just the right length to hit the laughter bull’s-eye.

Among the best of the short blackouts is the one in which a married woman finds a South Asian named Patel in her bed.  (Her husband has “outsourced” their lovemaking.)   Another winner has an illegal alien shot by a cop who only then remembers to shout “Freeze!” 

A “verbal symphony” of complaints about life in Orange County proves an improv highlight, audience members suggesting such varied gripes as megachurches, out-of-town tourists, and drivers who fail to use turn signals—and the troupe winging it from there.

A number of the best sketches appear to have been culled from “The Best Of The Second City,” i.e., they’re not particularly O.C.-specific.  A song performed with the aid of helium balloons (hilarious!), an Office Worker Ballet danced on castered chairs (delicious!), and a skit in which a man has a romantic date with a blowup sex doll (played by a real live woman) are among the evening’s funniest highlights.

Material is credited to “the casts of The Second City” with additional material created by director Mark Warzecha and Andy Cobb, who spent several days in the O.C. soaking up the local culture before putting fingers to keyboard.

The ethnically diverse and comedically gifted all-Equity cast (Craig Cackowski, Frank Caeti, Molly Erdman, Brian Gallivan, Niki Lindgren, and Claudia Michelle Walace) do the same kind of bang-up work seen weekly on Saturday Night Live, not surprising since so many SLC vets and current series regulars are Second City alums. Musical director Chad Krueger provides first-rate musical accompaniment on piano and guitar.

It is a bit demoralizing to see a show at the Laguna Playhouse performed on the cheap on a virtually bare black stage furnished only with a few straight-back chairs.  The theater world’s current financial woes make lower budget productions understandable, but it would have been nice at the very least to see what a set designer could have done with the show’s O.C. theme.  

Wednesday’s audience was treated to a fifteen-minute encore, an entirely improvised one-act musical entitled (per an audience member’s suggestion) When The Wampum Was In Bloom.  Though it seemed not to be part of the usual program, hopefully other audiences will get this Second City bonus, which proved a delightful coda to an already enjoyable evening.

All in all, The Second City: Can You Be More Pacific? provides an entertaining change of pace from usual regional theater fare, especially for those who call Orange County home.

The Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach.

–Steven Stanley
March 24, 2010
                                                                   Photos: Ed Krieger

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