The title of Sex and The Second City, presented Jan. 3-7 by Broadway Series South, promises much more than this moderately amusing but bumpy musical look at contemporary love and marriage can deliver. The tempting title, so obviously meant to suggest dangerous liaisons a la the eyebrow-raising HBO series “Sex and the City,” suggests a scandalous evening of sex, sex, sex spent in the company of one of this nation’s premier improvisational comedy troupes. What the audience gets is mostly talk, talk, talk about man/woman relationships in general and one particular (not very interesting) marriage on the rocks.
Other than a single interlude in which a fully dressed couple — in the midst of a ferocious argument — inexplicably segue to makeup sex and reenact some highlights from the Kama Sutra, while they continued to argue nonstop, there is little ruffle the feathers of the local prudes.
What Chicago-based Second City Theatricals promises is a generous slice of that wild-and-crazy comedy — the inspired lunacy — that they have been producing for the past five decades. What they deliver is a consistently amusing but relatively tame pastiche derived from vintage Second City skits and songs — all cobbled together by Maribeth Monroe, Kirk Hanley, TJ Shanoff, and Ron West. There are some guaranteed bellylaughs, but what’s missing is the spark of spontaneity, the outrageous excesses, and the no-holds-barred effort to whip the audience into a frenzy of laughter.
In Sex and The Second City, Mike Shreeman and Katie Caussin play Richard and Denise Sloan — the parties in the Sloan vs. Sloan divorce action — like a 21st century version of "The Bickersons," the enormously popular 1940s radio series that starred Don Ameche and Frances Langford as temperamental, thin-skinned spouses on opposite sides of the Battle of the Sexes; and Randall Harr and Lori McClain play his and hers divorce lawyers Mark Robertson and Samantha Percy — both personal friends and confidants of their clients — with similar moxie.
Much to the consternation of their attorneys, the squabbling Sloans run hot and cold. They are irascible one minute, conciliatory the next — which is one reason why Denise and Richard agree to see a couples’ Therapist (McLain) named Dr. Wilson. It is soon clear that the good doctor more strongly empathizes with Denise and her ongoing struggle to communicate with her uncommunicative husband, whom both women find oblivious to their feelings — and unwilling to share his own — as ever. Indeed, Mike Shreeman’s Richard Sloan is more — much more — of a self-centered jerk than Katie Caussin’s Denise Sloan is an emasculating shrew.
Caussin is a very funny lady, as she demonstrates in her passionate performance as Denise Sloan and in a slew of other sharply etched cameos throughout the evening. Lori McClain and Randall Harr are likewise hilarious as love-starved lawyers Samantha Percy and Mark Robertson, who call themselves Habeas Corpus Hottie and Well Hung Jury when unknowingly meet and flirt online in a special chatroom for young attorneys in lust. They fumble toward ecstasy in a delightful on-again, off-again courtship that keeps the audience grinning, and its much more interesting that the paint-by-numbers problems of the married couple that they represent in divorce court.
Sex and The Second City, under the direction of Ron West, is more talk than sex, more grins than guffaws. It is a good-time musical comedy — enlivened by the sprightly piano accompaniment of Trey Stone — but not the door-slamming, laugh-out-loud sex farce that might be expected considering its origins in tried-and-true material developed by The Second City.
Tuesday night’s sparsely attended performance of Sex and The Second City, which solicits audience suggestions to spice up some of its key segments and brings an audience member on stage for an extended “Dating Game” skit, also suffered from some particularly lame audience suggestions; and the woman shanghaied for “Dating Game” segment proved to be such a wet blanket that she virtually stopped the show’s four up-and-coming comedians in their tracks.
Broadway Series South presents Sex and The Second City Thursday-Friday, Jan. 5-6, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, Jan. 7, at 2 and 8 p.m. in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $32.50-$44.50. Progress Energy Box Office: 919/831-6060. Group Rates (for groups of 20 or more): 919/857-4565 or http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2005-2006/group.html#second [inactive 2/06]. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2005-2006/specials.html#second [inactive 2/06]. The Second City: http://www.secondcity.com/. The Tour: http://www.secondcity.com/?id=touring/theatricals/sex.