Oh, the Places You’ll Glow takes Second City audiences to a rapturous place

Photo by Timothy M. Schmidt

In the curtain speech that welcomes the audience to Oh, the Places You’ll Glow, the triumphant new e.t.c. revue at Second City, the audience is (jokingly, one presumes) informed that psychedelics are being pumped into the theatre. Moments later, the cast parades onstage waving glowsticks. No matter your level of chemical alteration, this one-two punch makes the perfect introduction to a show that’s warm, charming, and laugh-out-loud funny throughout. 

Each of the pieces here manages to accomplish both of the things a great sketch does: They open with a snappy gag and then find somewhere surprising or clever to go. Some of them, like the opener about the ethics of an ill-advised hookup with someone whose politics you find ghastly, have an obvious element of social commentary. Others, like a madcap romp with a psychotic Shirley Temple-esque child star, are a little more purely playful. Maybe the funniest bit of the night is a Chicago-centric sendup of the corny Al Capone-themed tours that weaves a hilarious song out of some clever crowd work. 

Nowhere are the show’s strengths clearer than in a wide-ranging spot at the top of the second act that looks at how our poisonous discourse transforms even the most anodyne things into grist for the culture war mill. Jumping off with a suggestion from the crowd, the sketch imagines an escalating, back-and-forth moral panic that includes Fox News, MSNBC, social media personalities, a country music star, and eventually the entire audience. (The suggested provocation the night I saw the show was knitting.) The piece works as social and political satire, but more than that, it’s just fun to watch. Filled with songs, comic reversals, and a plethora of well-deployed punchlines, it’s a master class in making commentary as funny as it is mordant.  

None of the sketches overstay their welcome, and they move fluidly. Throughout, the writing is sharp and smart and plays to the cast’s commendable strengths. Oh, the Places You’ll Glow goes from merely entertaining to actively thrilling thanks to the charms of that uniformly excellent cast. Each of them finds some fantastic moments that allow them to showcase their gifts. Meghan Babbe and Claudia Martinez shine in the gangster sketch but also display a remarkable range and ability to find heart amidst the zaniness in a sketch about a young woman’s sexual awakening thanks to a crush on her teacher, a nun. Jordan Savusa is an excellent comic musician as exemplified in a jaunty number about the anxieties of post-pandemic theatregoing. A sketch about the devil and his wife co-managing hell gives Tim Metzler a chance to display his gift for creating huge characters and bringing them to life physically. In the same piece, Brittani Yawn deploys a deadpan affect that speaks to her ability to simultaneously play it straight and still get big laughs. Finally, Leila Gorstein may be one of the most versatile comedians in Chicago today, with a remarkable knack for blending guilelessness and mischievousness in her characters.

Director Jeff Griggs stages the show with a near-flawless sense of pace that keeps things moving fluidly. When the show ended, I wanted another few hours in the company of this talented ensemble and the world they created. The amount of joy they bring to their work and that they cultivate between themselves and the audience is remarkable. It’s also something that’s in all too short supply on stages today. At its best, live performance is an act of exultation that creates a special relationship between performer and spectator. Anyone looking to be reminded of that feeling should run, not walk, to see Oh, the Places You’ll Glow

Oh, the Places You’ll Glow is presented by Second City and is now playing at the Second City in Piper’s Alley, 230 W. North Avenue in an open run. Performance times vary; check the website at Second City. Find more information about current plays on our Current Shows page and at theatreinchicago.com.

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