Webster's Dictionary defines pratfall as "a fall onto one's buttocks." It makes sense, then, that Second City e.t.c.'s new show "Pratfall of Civilization," directed by Marc Warzecha, takes a look at how America has stumbled and landed right on its you-know-what.
It's all here, laid out in unflinching detail. Iraq, Mitt Romney and guns at Wal-Mart blended together and spit out in a tight two-hour format, written and acted by e.t.c's six-member cast. There's a boatload of talent amongst the lot, especially the saucy Niki Lindgren and versatile Andy St. Clair, made most apparent by the show's impeccable timing. No worries if a segment doesn't have you in stitches; the next one will probably do the trick, and it's only sixty seconds away.
Despite the show's solid wealth of material, a few dud sketches do exist; the one about metrosexuals feels cliched, and a sarcastic love song to President Bush just seems too obvious, not to mention creepy.
High points include a side-splitting segment featuring Al Gore as a maliciously sweet environmental cult leader, who lures Americans who use too much toilet paper into his lair to "drink some juice," as well as a sketch that shows two mulleted friends watching NASCAR while discussing the finer points of Sunni-Shiite relations.
When the group digs a deeper for inspiration, it pays off in a big way. Native Chicagoans will love the faux-mariachi "24-Hour Flash Taco on Damen" band, which roams the crowd for suggestions that evolve into off-the-cuff, meandering songs (make sure to sit way in the back if you fear being put on the spot).
But sometimes "Pratfall" sacrifices too much of that easygoing humor for glib efficiency. A prime offender: an ongoing bit where hapless citizens call in to a national hotline with their pressing questions, only to be deflected by the big ol' American bureaucracy. "When will we get universal healthcare?" "When hell freezes over! Hold, please."
That's why sticking around for the all-improv, optional third act is well worth the extra half hour. The actors offer a glimpse of what goes on at rehearsals by spinning ten-minute scenes out of audience suggestions. Results range from the ludicrous to the sublime; Sunday's performance referenced everything from Immanuel Kant to Bear Grylls. Although the scenes may not be as evenly paced, they're much more real.
And that's funny.