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The Winner…of Our Discontent

At Second City (Main Stage)

By Dan Zeff

 

Chicago –Anticipation ran high at the opening of Second City’s 105th Mainstage revue. This is the first show to follow the recent national election and the audience would be pumped to witness the venerable satirical institution’s spin on the ascension of Donald Trump to the presidency.

        The show’s prospects started out pleasing with the title of the revue, “The Winner…of Our Discontent,” a barbed connection between Trump and the extravagant Shakespearean villain Richard III. But with a few notable exceptions, the clever title is the satirical high point of the evening.

Granted, crafting a show to tweak Trump is a difficult goal for a satirical revue. For the last several months we have watched Trump satirize himself in strokes as bold as anything that could be exploited on the comedy stage. And there are people, especially of the liberal bent attracted to Second City-style satire, who don’t find Trump funny at all. Maybe Trump has been in the national public eye for such a comparatively short time that there isn’t the reservoir of satire-worthy material Second City could mine to give a fresh slant to the persona of our president-elect. The satirical opportunities might have been more abundant had Hillary won the presidency. We will never know.

                                                       Photo Credit: Timothy M Schmidt

The revue does take its shots at Trump and family, a few one liners hitting the comic bull’s-eye, like a zinger about Ivana. But the revue spends much of its nearly two hour stage time exploring the situation of race in America. Some of the racial sketches are funny but there is an anger and despair in much of the material that is neither revelatory nor humorous, just bitter and pessimistic. And there is virtually no local-oriental material, nothing about the Chicago police or the mayor.

The cast consists of Jamison Webb, Martin Morrow, Rashawn Nadine Scott, Shantira Jackson, Kelsey Kinney, and Paul Jurewicz. The ensemble includes three white and three black performers--three males and three females to further establish the revue’s diversity credentials. This isn’t the strongest ensemble in recent Second City history, with only Jurewicz having extensive Mainstage experience. The cast is competent and the performers work well enough with each other, but only Webb separated himself throughout the evening as a distinctive comic presence.

There are some odd choices for sketch material. Morrow delivers an extended monologue that ridicules the racist heritage of the state of Alabama, surely not a topic of burning contemporary relevance. Jackson is the centerpiece of a skit decrying the plight of black Americans in white America that is grim and accusatory, a didactic attack that makes little attempt to be funny. The same might be said about a bit describing black heaven, which has its comic moments while still pointing an accusing finger at the racial abuses white American society inflicts on African Americans. An ensemble piece featuring Webb as a musician called the Bass Man has much length but little point.

The revue is dominated by extended sketches separated by comparatively few of those quickie blackouts that could punch up the comic level of the evening. The language continues to escalate the recent Second City inclusion of profanity. Words that an audience wouldn’t have heard for an entire show in early Second City revues are commonplace in this show, along with bits of vulgarity that drew embarrassed laughs from the viewers. But maybe that’s just old fogy-ism from a spectator who recalls the pungent but four-letter-word- free comedy from the Second City eras of Barbara Harris and Alan Arkin, when never an F-- bomb was heard.

        Photo Credit: Timothy M Schmidt

The revue does have its highlights. This is Second City after all, which sets the gold standard for this kind of humor. The best thing on press night was an improvisation sketch involving the three males in the ensemble. The trio solicited ideas from the audience and then stationed themselves at various points in the house to weave verbal garlands of comedy around the audience ideas. Webb stole the sketch with improvised monologues delivered at a blistering pace, demonstrating a razor sharp comic mind and a speed-of-sound tongue that had the audience roaring and stimulating quick-witted responses from his two colleagues.

Throughout the evening, Webb showed he is a fine actor as well as a solid comedian. He just needs higher quality material. The same could be said for Kelsey Kinney, who distinguishes herself in a skit between a 14-yrear old girl and an adult psychic (Scott). The teenager is mired in despondency and confusion over her unhappy life, with Kinney making a sympathetic case for the girl’s sorrows that cast a hush over the audience.

The physical production follows the minimalism of the Second City tradition, with a few wooden chairs as primary props, the scenic effects enhanced by atmospheric projections designed by Greg Mulvey. Vinnie Pillarella is the musical director, sound designer, and original composer, presiding over a high tech keyboard capable of emitting ear-splitting sounds. This isn’t a dancing show but what choreography the show provides was designed by Carlsa Barreca and Dean Evans. The show is directed by Anthony LeBlanc, who keeps the pace brisk but hasn’t done much with the inconsistent material.

Ultimately, the revue is held back by too much sketches material that isn’t ready for Second City prime time, and a cast that at least for now doesn’t achieve sufficient comic success, Webb excepted. I’ve seen Jurewicz used to better advantage in past revues but Kinney’s flash of quiet dsesperation as the 14-year old suggests that as a stage performer she is in the right business. Jackson has a distinct theatrical personality but I had trouble understanding her dialogue. All in all, the show is an evening of some hits and too many misses.

“The Winner…of Our Discontent” is playing an open run at the Second City Mainstage, 1616 North Wells Street. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 and 11 p.m., and Sunday at 7 p.m. Ticket prices start at $19. Call 312 664 4032 or visit www.SecondCity.com.

        The show gets a rating of 2½ stars.

Contact Dan at ZeffDaniel@yahoo.com.   December 2016

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