Bits with More Bite on The Second City Mainstage

Bits with More Bite on The Second City Mainstage

(L-R) Martin Morrow, Rashawn Nadine Scott, Jamison Webb. Photo by TODD ROSENBERG.

Review: The Second City’s 105th Mainstage Revue — THE WINNER … OF OUR DISCONTENT

by Jonald Jude Reyes

Coming off of what has been called an “unprecedented” (or “unpresidented,” if you prefer) election year, the Second City’s 105th Mainstage Revue, THE WINNER … OF OUR DISCONTENT, gives audiences a time stamp of what America has recently experienced with minor glimpses into what may occur in our near political future. Like any other election year, we were overwhelmed with news, campaign promises, and controversy, but in today’s age of constant information, we reached a suffocating level. Our political viewpoints became more transparent and a nation that was supposedly built on the “American Dream” found itself asking hard questions. So, where’s the comedy in that?

In this new revue, the cast takes what may be hard to make fun of and answers back with what’s hard about living in America today. Through three African-American performers, including newcomers Shantira Jackson and Martin Morrow, we get a more intimate look at being black in America. In their honest viewpoints, comedy comes in. Instead of metaphoric layers or symbolic scene storytelling, most of these sketches are clear cut and direct on calling out the inequality present in our country. Again – where’s the comedy in that? The funny lays in the truths spoken and out of the mouths of babes — in this case, six writer-performers. This coming at a time when the Chicago comedy community needs to do more political satire. THE WINNER … OF OUR DISCONTENT is not only raw with its emotions but brash with its intent, to not only show that comedy can be funny but can be just as eye-opening with adult composition.

Opening on a split scene with overlapping dialogue, we’re shown the parallels of the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series and Hilary Clinton losing the election. Whereas one side is getting excited for the big comeback by the home team compared to the other side getting bewildered by the big upset of a political giant. This is where change in America happens, and this is what the Mainstage cast shows us. Followed by a combination of introductory lines to the journey we’re to embark on, a blackout scene has a gym trainer asking Martin Morrow what kind of shape he’s looking to get into, and his reply – “good enough shape in case slavery breaks out.”

The next full scene shows another newcomer Kelsey Kinney as a mother, talking to her son (played by veteran cast member Paul Jurewicz) about how his wife hates her and how he’s doing a better job at raising his kids than she did. The strong relationship with sarcastic dialogue is reminiscent of Roseanne Barr’s 90’s sitcom, which ironically centered on an Illinois working-class family. Their picture painting via object work tells us the deeper story of a family doing the best they can with what they got. The grounded scene sets a well-balanced tone at the top of the show and for sketches that follow to progressively pick up in energy.

A few scenes later we’re brought into what is assumedly a DMV and people waiting to have their license picture taken, however, we’re revealed to be at the gates of heaven. In this instance we’re at “black heaven,” because according to Shantira Jackson, “White Heaven is called Earth.” A personal monologue delivered by Jackson explains that in this heaven “everyone fits.” Prince is Jesus, as Jesus is Prince, and as she continues to describe this heaven to us, the rest of the cast creates silhouette stage pictures to further our imagination. Stimulating in visualization, with projection and lighting design incorporated too, Jackson is a strong stage presence. The heart of this piece is evident with her earnest delivery, especially when she tells the audience that “you are sexy and you matter!” She has opportunities to be more vulnerable but decides to stay the course and comes off as a good friend sharing tough love, a sentiment that too many minorities have had to endure for white allies in these recent times.

Director Anthony LeBlanc stacks up a lot of political scenes in the first half, to later bring more personal compassion & silliness in the second. It should be realized that with the December opening date, LeBlanc may have had to involve some last minute scene choices with the election ending only a month earlier. In previous revues, there may have been more time to further develop scenes, but LeBlanc understands the necessity to have post-election sketches involved. Fortunately, along with talented newcomers, he was able to utilize great cornerstone pieces with returning actors Jamison Webb and Rashawn Nadine Scott remaining grounded in most aspects of the show.

Kinney and Scott have a heart-to-heart scene where Kinney plays a sad 14-year old girl talking to the mind reader, Madam Zola, played by Scott. The awkwardness Kinney exudes in her character is relatable and reminds us how confusing our emotions were during that age. Smart to not go overboard with mysticism, Rashawn keeps the relationship strong and finds out that this young woman’s father passed away a year ago. With this revue opening during the holiday season, the warm scene has the possibility to bring a sniffle to an audience member.

In an innovative sketch, a Cubs bat boy sings his mantra, “I’m just the bat boy, no one sees me.” Playing the bat boy, Paul Jurewicz, becomes the unnoticeable entity that serves support between a couple’s argument, played by Kinney and Morrow. Jurewicz moves rapidly around the stage to ‘catch and throw’ household items between the couple, including their baby. The cast breaks into laughter a bit, which overrides the creativity of the scene and comes off a bit confusing. The jest between the three performers shows the playfulness and fun these performers have in doing what they do.

Amongst these other sketches, we’re shown scenes such as Hilary Clinton hosting the game show “Who Wants to be President?”, Donald Trump’s sons getting downgraded by daddy winning the election, and the government taking control over abortion … ahem, in this case, “options.”

In these days of a more divided America, some of these sketches have a bit more bite in their jokes. This may be the comedy needed to wake up audiences in realizing the situation we’re in under a President Trump era. We’re presented by more of a transitional show by the Second City Mainstage cast, but again, America is in a transitional period itself. This first Second City show out of the gates of a Trump era is satisfying and promising of greater things should these newcomers continue to develop in future revues.

About author

Jonald Jude Reyes

Jonald Jude Reyes is a Writer, Performer & Director in Chicago, IL. His works have been performed in various theaters city-wide, including Stage 773, The Annoyance, and The Second City. In 2016, he was named Best of Stage Director by the Chicago Reader and was selected to the DirectorsLabChicago program. Learn more at http://www.jonaldjude.com.

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