Chicago Stage Style


Chicago Critic







Chicago Stage Style

July 2010 Theatre Review by Lawrence Bommer

Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies

The Second City presents Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies in an open run. Photo by Michael Brosilow.Not to be confused with the 97 revues that came before it, this latest laugh attack from the jesters of Wells Street boasts a sleek set depicting a glass-walled skyscraper that’s every bit as slick as the show.  How can “Spoiler Alert” not be streamlined to the point of auto control when it opens with a huge "Press Button" sign that forces an audience member to go on stage and press the red button that activates the revue?  What follows, however overlong (or overly generous, if you’re kindly disposed), is unquestionably absorbing: Six well-honed and superbly interlocking comics try to make sense of the nonsense that defines and surrounds us.

The joke here is that the “spoiler alert” doesn’t refer to a movie synopsis.  It’s for life itself; hence the subtitle “Everybody Dies.”  Not an amusing concept upon which to build comedy, you’d think.  But Matt Hovde directs the sextet in a whirlwind of satire, domestic and political, that tries to tie together the stupidities, acknowledged or unconscious, that define modern life.  Mostly it succeeds.

The emphasis here is on ignorance as much as folly.  The most skilled song recites all the unchallenged “Internet legends” that the gullible take as gospel.  A tea bag spokesman manages to fit 11 whopping lies about Obama into one know-nothing speech (and sentence!).  Likewise, it’s hits off to reality television, endless and boring tennis matches, the protocol of getting fired (try not to puke), Christian broadcasters wrapped up in the Rapture, a bridegroom with premature “buyer’s remorse,” and the difficulty of being nice versus the convenience of acting like an asshole.

Photo by John McCloskeyIn the most cynical scene Allison Bills plays a paraplegic, crippled when she fell off a horse on her wedding day, who wins a prize for undesired appearance in “America’s Funniest Videos.”  An audience participation play called “The Millionaire’s Room” manages to spoof audience members without triggering their umbrage over providing the entertainment they thought they’d already paid for.  The more physical—and aggressive—scenes compare shooting people to eradicating squirrels that threaten a bird feeder or use people as props in assorted office scenes.  I guess you had to be there.

Occasionally, the revue slows down enough to depict two Taste of Chicago vendors—one from Poland, the other Ghana (Bills and Sam Richardson)—trying to make sense of the strange Chicagoans who swirl around them without buying their foreign fare.  On opening night Shelly Gossman had some wicked fun as she created a complete character out of the stuff she extracted from an audience member’s purse. 

According to this frenetic inventory of contemporary confusion, you may not be able to save the world but you can always act as a storage brain for your husband and let him know where he left his keys.  The final conclusion for surviving all this silliness: “To know what happened, just set it up and let it go.”  If that doesn’t seem very helpful, then consider this a spoiler alert too.  For more information on this show, please visit the Theatre In Chicago Spoiler Alert page.


About Lawrence Bommer

A native Chicagoan, Lawrence Bommer has been an active free-lance writer and playwright since 1975.  For twenty years he wrote a weekly column, "Opening Nights" for the Friday section of the Chicago Tribune, where he also regularly contributed theater criticism and feature writing.  His work has appeared in Stagebill, the Pulitzer-Lerner newspapers and The Advocate.

Mr. Bommer was theater editor for the Windy City Times since its founding until 1999; from 1986 a theater critic for the Chicago Reader (where he has also written for the "Calendar" and "Our Town" sections); Chicago Free Press, where he was contributing editor until the paper’s demise in spring 2010; Chicago Footlights, where he has been a regular contributor; and Plays International, where he is the Chicago correspondent.  He has also contributed to the Hollywood Reporter, PerformInk, Screen Magazine, CitySearch, the Chicago Illini, Inside Chicago, Illinois Entertainer, the International Theatre Festival of Chicago newsletter, Plays International, CitySearch, Playbill Online, TheatreMania, and Chicago Enterprise.  Mr. Bommer is a three-time finalist for a Peter Lisagor Award for Exemplary Journalism in the "arts criticism" category.  In 1991 he became a regular theater and, dance critic and arts writer for the Chicago Tribune.  His commentary has also aired on LesBiGay Radio, WGN and on Milwaukee Public Radio.

As a playwright, Mr. Bommer's work has been produced in Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Madison and, in Chicago, by the Organic Theater Company (Jonathan Wild [1979], Poe [1980]. Gulliver's Last Travels [1993] and by Lionheart Gay Theatre (Gunsel, The Tyrannicides, Killers and Comrades).  Since 1976 Mr. Bommer has taught at the Francis W. Parker School and was a lecturer at the University of Illinois at Chicago from 1969 to 1975 (where he received his Master's degree in English), as well as a guest lecturer at the College of DuPage, Roosevelt University, DePaul University and the University of Chicago.  Mr. Bommer is a member of the American Theater Critics Association and has been a member of the National Writers Union and the Dramatists Guild.