In some of the skits, the material is funnier than the execution; in others, the execution is better than the material. Overall, Red Scare is a hit-and-miss proposition -- with mildly amusing moments alternating with laugh-yourself-silly scenes and a few out-and-out clunkers.
Red Scare is a production of Chicago's famed Second City, birthplace of such talents as Alan Arkin, John Belushi, Chris Farley and Amy Sedaris, and co-founded by the inimitable Severn Darden, creator of "The Metaphysics Lecture" ("Why -- you will ask me -- have I chosen to talk about the Universe instead of some other topic. It's very simple: There isn't any other topic!").
Things change. Satire becomes product. Second City subsidiaries tour and entertain on cruise ships. While there's nothing particularly sophisticated, surprising or cutting-edge about Red Scare, currently at the Garner Galleria, at least there's some funny stuff, including two silently mimed sequences. In one, a man settles in for an evening of sex and TV with an inflatable doll -- not a new idea, but well executed by Brendan Dowling and Samantha Albert. In the second, Dave Colan tiptoes in on his sleeping wife, Beth Melewski, and settles quietly into bed beside her; then, unexpectedly, she does some guilty tiptoeing of her own.
Garner Galleria Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
Presented by Denver Center Attractions through May 21, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org
In another sketch, a teacher in a rough school comes into her classroom after hours to find a student planning to rifle her purse -- but in the end, he tells her in song, he couldn't steal from her because "I Saw Your Paycheck." In two scenes, a suicidal Shakespearean heroine is talked out of her despair by a sassy gay friend. There's a good skit about the exaggerated way white people talk to their black co-workers, a sad-funny bit involving a coach and his cancer-stricken wife, and a monologue in which the talented Amber Ruffin gives grandmotherly advice about marriage and childbirth, ending with the most hilarious riff in the show. The best sustained comic sequence involves a group of guests playing a party game in which each has to come up with two truths and a lie, and both truths and lies become meaner and wilder by the moment.
But then there are those scenes that should be funny but aren't. In one, a teacher explains to a mother that her child is "D-U-M-B." The now-defunct Rattlebrain troupe did a much better parody a few years ago involving a principal explaining to concerned parents that their son couldn't be accommodated by her school because he was "D-E-A-D" -- or, as she put it, "life-force challenged."
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Some of the most disappointing moments are those requiring improvisation -- ironic, given Second City's fame in this area. In one, Anthony Irons, who's African-American, asks audience members what they think about interracial dating. On the night I attended, people answered as you'd expect Denverites to do: It's fine, no problem. One woman even called out that she thought Irons was hot. Heritage Square's Annie Dwyer would have been all over a comment like that, playing and replaying it until she had the audience weeping with laughter, but Irons had no response.
In another sketch, the cast floats the idea that the Republican Party, eager to bolster its image in the black community, has invented a black Republican robot. Asked for topics for this robot to address, my audience gamely yelled out "Iraq" or "the economy" -- and once again, no one on stage seemed to have any idea what to do with these ideas.
Its creators and cast have had the sense to keep most of the scenes in Red Scare very brief, so that the jokes are tossed out, relished and forgotten as another skit begins -- just as this production is quickly forgotten. Still, for anyone out for a casual date or a laugh or two after work, this might be just the thing.