THE SECOND CITY RELOADED written and performed by Lauren Ash, Matt Baram, Paul Bates, Derek Flores, Anand Rajaram and Naomi Snieckus, directed by Mick Napier. Presented by Second City at their new venue, 51 Mercer. $20-$28. 416-343-0011. Rating: NNNNN
Since the last Second City show lived up to its simplistic title, Good's Good, Evil's Bad, let's hope the new one catches some of the Matrix-style bravado of its new moniker: Second City Reloaded. It's an apt name. The comedy institution has packed up from its always-tough-to-play-in space at 56 Blue Jays Way and moved across the street to the more cramped - let's call it intimate, shall we? - space in the back of Wayne Gretzky's, once the home of the now-defunct Mike Bullard Show.
"We had a smudging the other day," says cast member Derek Flores, one of the few good things about the last revue. "We don't want the ghost of Bullard hovering over us."
But the title along with the show's clever marketing image of a handgun painted with the Canadian flag that shoots an American flag also signals another direction for the company.
"We're definitely going for a university audience," says Flores. "A hipper, edgier crowd. I think we've hooked into something that's a little younger, a little angrier. We're pushing boundaries. This isn't your parents' Second City."
As always, the troupe which has been reloaded with new cast members Anand Rajaram and Lauren Ash, as well as SC vet Paul Bates, returning after a three-year absence grabs its themes from the current zeitgeist. Flores says a common theme is the feeling of anger.
"Not only at politicians, but at ourselves for being lazy and apathetic," he explains.
Topics ready to be satirized include cancer, Stephen Harper and gay marriage. One scene they're currently tweaking under the direction of Mick Napier concerns Karla Homolka.
"She's one of Canada's most notorious serial killers," he claims, "but it's odd that no one's dealt with her in sketch or even stand-up. We're fighting to find the humour in a palpable way.
"We're also taking our regular jabs at the U.S. But it's all done with a boomerang, because the jokes come back and target us as well."
One of the show's overarching themes, says Flores, is going to be identity. An early scene, with Bates and Rajaram, concerns a Sikh-Scottish cabdriver.
"We're getting at how Canadians are always trying to identify themselves as anything but Canadian. That, "I was born in Canada, but I'm a Latino' syndrome. Whereas Americans always identify themselves as Americans all the way."
Flores himself was born and raised in Calgary, where he joined the legendary Loose Moose Theatre Company, rubbing shoulders in improv scenes with the likes of Albert Howell, Pat Kelly, Peter Oldring and Ryan Belleville. He also met Kristian Reimer there, and the pair host the monthly DK Ranch comedy series on an outdoor patio in the summer.
One of Flores's strongest sketches in the last show saw him as a Mexican wrestler whose home gets a makeover by clueless designer Naomi Snieckus. Yet he says his ethnic background hasn't worked itself into many scenes.
"I've never really felt Latino," he says. "It's like that Banana Boy syndrome. I'm suburban before I'm Latino. But I'm trying to get in touch with my culture. I usually draw on it for the Second City improv sets. Chicks love a second language."
A bundle of nervous energy onstage, Flores is one of those rare performers who can combine tragedy and comedy in the same scene. You can tell he's got demons.
"We all do," he says. "If you don't laugh, you're going to weep yourself into a bottle or a state of paralysis. We've all got baggage and a shit life. Nothing pleases me more than seeing a doe-eyed clown being kicked in the nuts. It encapsulates everything I love about comedy."
Ball-breaking or not, when the show officially opens Friday night (October 14), one thing's clear the audience won't have a hard time hearing it. The theatre's been built according to the specs of the Chicago Second City stage, which is way more in-your-face than the cavernous former theatre.
"If you whisper onstage, people can actually hear you," laughs Flores. "The space forces you to interact with the audience. People's drinks are right in front of you. Believe me, an errant chair could knock everyone off."