A telling moment came early in the second act of the laugh-a-second Can You Be More Pacific?—an Orange County-specific sketch-comedy show courtesy of the world-renowned troupe Second City—that suggests Orange County is too brain-dead to laugh at itself.
In one of the show’s improv bits, a man receives a text from his daughter, who is homesick for Irvine while off at college in Santa Barbara. Dad messages back that he also misses his daughter and one of the ways he fills his time is following a local burning issue reported in The Orange County Register, something everyone is talking about.
The audience is then enlisted to help catalyze the sketch. The actor pauses and looks toward the audience, wordlessly asking someone to fill in the blank. And the audience of nearly 300 people inside the Laguna Playhouse responds with . . . utter silence.
Finally, after a few quite awkward seconds, a feeble voice from the back of the room bleats, “Bunched-up underpants.”
This gets some laughs; the hapless actor does as much as he can with bunched-up underpants, but it certainly doesn’t provide him with the kind of relevant fodder found in, say, medical-marijuana dispensaries, the death of an accused cop-batterer in Orange County Jail, or a community protest in Huntington Beach at a motel where convicted sex offenders were allowed to stay.
There are plenty of issues that could concern Orange Countians. But, based on this admittedly small test sample, we aren’t talking about or even overtly interested in anything.
The writers are two Second City pros—Andy Cobb and Marc Warzecha—who have crafted similar projects in other parts of the country. They’re commissioned by theaters to visit their locales, interview people-in-the-know, and then fashion a night of sketch comedy lampooning the region.
Maybe the urban downtowns that have been the subject of previous Second City projects have more-aware citizens, or maybe it’s easier to tap into a more concentrated city’s sense of identity, but based on the subject matter in this production,there really isn’t a whole lot going on in Orange County other than lots of Mexicans working menial jobs, spoiled socialites getting boob jobs and botox injections, and cougars prowling the bars of Newport Beach.
Not that the creators don’t pepper the approximately 90-minute show with a slew of specific references, ranging from a rich guy with a sex dungeon (inspired by the funniest charge of which Broadcom co-founder Henry Nicholas III was exonerated in January) and Mike Carona’s penis (a.k.a. “The Little Sheriff”) to the annual Amtrak mooning at Mug’s Away Saloon in Laguna Niguel and the not-so-great Great Park.
But that’s all they are for the most part: references, mere mentions in skits that, while all quite funny and many colorfully profane or sexual in nature, really have very little to do with Orange County.
None of this is meant to imply that Can You Be More Pacific? isn’t worth your hard-earned disposable ducats. This is as riotously funny a show as you’re going to find on any stage in the county. The six-person cast crackles with talent, and the entire night showcases an American comedic tradition—Second City celebrates it 50th anniversary this year—at its freewheeling best.
But . . . still.
It’s not that you should come to a Second City show expecting to see a Culture Clash offering: That troupe also creates site-specific pieces, but they’re as much journalists as they are comedy writers, charged with creating works that comment on a specific place as much as they force that place to laugh at itself. Second City’s shows are designed to tickle—and occasionally fracture—the funny bone, not prod the cerebrum.
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There’s nothing wrong with that. And I defy anyone to sit through this show and not walk out without having released a few dozen chuckles and more than a few hearty belly laughs. But there seems to be a sense of an opportunity missed—though not necessarily by the show’s creators; they have a system, and based on the audience’s jovial reception on opening night, it’s a system that works.
No, the opportunity missed is the audience’s. In its best moments, even if it has become a hoary metaphor, theater holds up a mirror to society, using the stage as a place for a community to look at itself. And that does happen here.Unfortunately, what we’re seeing isn’t anything different from what we’ve seen over and over again. It’s ultimately nothing more than a much, much funnier incarnation of the Pageant of the Masters: a place where we gaze on something familiar, but without truly contemplating just what the fuck we’re looking at.
Second City: Can You Be More Pacific? at the Laguna Playhouse, 606 Moulton Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-ARTS; www.lagunaplayhouse.com. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; also Thurs., April 1, 2 p.m. Through April 11. $35-$65; students, $10-$15, except Fri.-Sat.
This review appeared in print as "Orange Curtain Called Out: Second City’s riff on OC offers plenty of laughs, but exposes some inconvenient truths about our community’s lack of self-reflection."