Put a group of instinctively funny young performers in front of a highly receptive audience, and you're bound to get more than a few laughs.
That's what happened Thursday night when the Second City National Touring Company blew into Lawrence, co-sponsored by Kansas University Student Union Activities and the Concert Series.
Based in Chicago, Second City has been producing talented improvisational performers for more than 30 years. The six performers who appeared here in the group's touring troupe may not make as big a splash as John Belushi or Mike Nichols and Elaine May, but they have potential.
AT THE 7 p.m. performance, one of two, the sextet performed mainly short sketches, with three improvised scenes thrown in. That was something of a disappointment although the sketches were frequently hilarious, one expects more spontaneous acting from a group whose founders virtually invented the genre. Even if the group fails to maintain an exercise, the energy it expends in carrying on the improvisation is infectious.
For example, in the first part of the evening, the group worked its way through an exercise that ran in a fashion akin to tag-team wrestling. Two actors would go into an improvisation, and then a third would tell the first two to freeze.
The third then would replace one of the first pair and change the focus of the sketch. One actor got caught in an uncomfortable position and had to stay in place as the others forced him to play a department store mannequin.
THE SET blackout sketches ran the gamut from a mini-play that opened the second act to extremely brief, one-joke set-ups reminiscent of the old "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In.'' Among the highlights were a sketch showing the increasingly brutal rivalry between country singer brothers and one in which two lonely souls meet as they visit their late spouses' graves.
The grand prize, however, went to the first-act closer, which was tailor-made for a college audience. Faced with a hugely apathetic class, a professor pulls out a gun and shoots students who don't know where the capital of occupied France was. This sketch also had the most pungent political bite.
Among the performers, Jimmy Doyle had the smoothest stage presence as, among others, one of the lonely mourners. Tracy Thorpe also stood out; she closed the show with a musical homage to "The Brady Bunch."
And Suzi Nakamora was intriguing as a depressed woman driven to distraction by a lobotomized counselor.
The company also included Peter Murrieta, Aaron Rhodes and John Theis.
The audience at the Kansas Union Ballroom obviously was taken by the company, although Second City's brand of comedy was designed for far more intimate venues.