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'Holiday Revue' satirizes season's traditions

| Thursday, Dec. 14, 2006

If traditional entertainments makes your Christmas spirit melt faster than Frosty the Snowman in a microwave, you may be in the mood for something new.

Pittsburgh Public Theater is hosting "The Second City's Dysfunctional Holiday Revue," an offbeat, satirical look at holidays and the people we celebrate them with.

The holiday-themed revue uses sketch comedy, improvisation and music to skewer Christmas carols, Hanukkah traditions, family get-togethers and myriad related contemporary practices.

"It's about the absurdity of everyday life and the things we take for granted," says Tim Baltz, one of The Second City's newer and younger recruits to the company's improvisational team who will perform here. "There are things about the holiday such as its absurd consumerism ... and the way couples and families interact. It's a holiday revue in the sense that a lot of the material is about that, but there is also other material."

Since its beginning in 1959, the Chicago-based improvisational group The Second City has been a dependable supplier of improvised and comedic entertainment, as well as a springboard for new talent. Prominent performers who were with The Second City in the early days of their careers include Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris, Mike Myers and Robert Klein, as well as Joan Rivers, John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd.

"I think it's the combination of wanting to work on our weaknesses and continuing to build on our strengths," Baltz says.

As you might expect from a company that's known for its improvisational work, it's difficult to tell audiences exactly what material they'll see during "The Second City's Dysfunctional Holiday Revue."

Change is the only constant.

"The show a lot of transitions. At least once a month, new scenes come in so we as actors have a challenge," Baltz says.

New material originates through improvisation -- spontaneous performances generated from an audience suggestion that begins with something as simple as a word -- shopping -- or a concept -- Santa coping with Department of Homeland Security regulations. The improvisation evolves as performers interact with each other, using their creativity to expand on the original suggestion. Running time can be anywhere between 10 seconds and 30 minutes.

The third act of "The Second City's Dysfunctional Holiday Revue" runs between 25 and 30 minutes and is a completely improvised musical. "It's hard, but so rewarding," Baltz says.

Sketches make up the majority of "The Second City's Dysfunctional Holiday Revue," Baltz says. "Between 80 and 90 percent of it is scripted. It's material that has been finely tuned and presented over and over." But even sketches allow room for on-the-spot improvisations that can be influenced by audience mood or performers' inspiration.

"In improv you use your instincts to edit -- to end (a segment) or to bring something new into a scene," Baltz says.

Audience and location have a strong influence on material that's presented and how it's performed. Although the material spoofs and satirizes with an irreverent slant, entertainment is primary. What's presented is tailored to who's expected to show up. "We will change (material) if it's say a largely military audience or a very conservative house," Baltz says.

The company also enjoys doing some investigative work in each town so they can insert local references and current events into the performance. "The audience loves it. But it's great because we get to learn about the town."

Additional Information:

'The Second City's Dysfunctional Holiday Revue'

Presented by: Pittsburgh Public Theater

When: 8 p.m. today-Fridayand 7 and 10 p.m. Saturday

Admission: $25.50-$45.50; $12.50 for students with ID and age 26 or younger

Where: O'Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Downtown

Details: 412-316-1600 or www.ppt.org

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