DALLAS -- If you have ever sat through a night of improv and/or sketch comedy, or watched a whole episode of Saturday Night Live without using fast-forward, you know that invariably, a chunk of the individual skits aren't as successful as the best one or two. A few of them might even stink.
Thankfully, the ratio of great to not-so-much is higher in The Second City Does Dallas, which opens Dallas Theater Center's 2012-13 season. And it's in the show's favor.
This is a show about Dallas created mostly by non-Dallasites -- written by Second City's Brooke Breit and Ed Furman, along with the Second City and Dallas performers in the show. You might think that's a disastrous recipe for stereotypical bits about cows, oil and big hair, but you'd be wrong. Breit and Furman spent time in North Texas last summer, and the end product is the result of research and finely tuned comic impulses.
And then there is that ingredient that you would expect in a night at the theater more than at the comedy club: structure.
To be sure, a scant few of the bits in SSDD aren't very funny -- such as the bit about marriage equality, not because it uses gay stereotypes, as this kind of comedy does, but because it's just not funny; and some of the pieces might offend (there's a bold JFK bit). But as an overall marriage of theater with improv and sketch comedy, tied together with the theme of a city's culture and politics, The Second City Does Dallas might be the year's most surprising success.
At the Wyly Theatre, the audience is in three sections: mismatched love seats and living-room chairs at the front, then cabaret tables behind those, and the Wyly's normal green seats (no balcony seating). Bob Lavallee's scenic design on the stage is simple and flexible, and the performers use the entire space.
Directed by Matt Hovde, Second City performers Frank Caeti, Amanda Blake Davis, Martin Garcia and Scott Moreland join Dallas' Liz Mikel and Dallas-raised actor John Sabine, all exhibiting the comic timing and quick-thinking skills you would expect. That is a welcome surprise in Mikel, from whom we don't normally see this kind of performance.
Music director and composer Matthew Loren Cohen plays keyboards and offers sound effects. A thoughtful soundtrack of North Texas music (Old 97's, Michelle Shocked, Dixie Chicks, etc.) fills out pre-show, intermission and incidental music.
There are clever bits about the new Allen High School stadium, Texas drivers, the Museum Tower/Nasher Sculpture Center dustup and the Dallas-Fort Worth rivalry, plus loving digs at Plano, Arlington and megachurches.
Some of it is dark, such as the aforementioned JFK skit that brilliantly satirizes over-commercialization (it's bound to anger some) and the fact that Dallas is best-known to many as the site of a national tragedy. It wraps up with a genius final scene that urges everyone to emerge from their safe havens and take a chance, whether that simply be shopping or eating at something other than the same chains that litter the shopping centers that, per capita, Dallas has more of than any other city.
It takes nerve for outsiders to skewer us, and it takes even more for us to laugh at ourselves. At The Second City Does Dallas, you'll do that. And in the process, you'll remember that we're not so different from everyone else.