A show billing itself "The Best of Second City" has a lot to live up to. The most famous comedy theatre in America has, in nearly 40 years, generated mountains of material that could comfortably fit in any kind of "best of" revue. One would expect such a compilation to hit a bit of every era in the company's long history. However, the Second City Touring Company, which presents the show at the Second City Mainstage every Monday night, largely avoids that route. They instead present a series of scenes that seems at least two-thirds contemporary, with a very strong emphasis on the Iraq War and other current events, and only a handful of sketches recognizably older than 2002 or so.
This approach may disappoint those looking for a comprehensive tour of the company's history, but not those who are merely seeking some brilliant comedy. Exemplifying the ethos of the sketch and improv culture that grew up around it, Second City has always encouraged its performers to play to the top of their intelligence, and this group is up to the challenge. Standout sketches include one in which Jordan Klepper portrays left-wing author Noam Chomsky as a substitute kindergarten teacher, giving his young charges a disillusioning lesson in America's history of slavery and genocide, as well as a poignant scene in which Aimee McKay plays an elderly woman trying to join the Army so she can take her grandson's place.
If there is a flaw from the longtime fan's perspective, it is that the show is something of a throwback to the old "blackout, sketch, blackout" format, which can be somewhat tedious, rather than the thematically linked, recurring-character-filled style that has characterized SC revues since the mid-90s.
Nonetheless, this ensemble knows how to build and use energy, producing two excellent climaxes for its first and second acts. The first act concludes with a crowd pleasing scene in which the superb Tim Sniffen and Sarah Haskins end the clash between the Western and Islamic civilizations with a Dirty Dancing parody. The second act finale tells the story of a Naperville man who becomes a prophet, raging against apathy and mediocrity, a scene which exemplifies the best quality of Second City: global vision with a local flavor.