"The Second City Mainstage Transitions to a New Era" - a review by Jonald Reyes
Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing." Nirvana's "Nevermind." The Second City's 105th Revue: "The Winner...of our Discontent."
This is a list of poignant moments in performance art that exemplifies transitional progression reflective to the state of America. The youthful voice that only later became recognized as important to a cultural evolution. Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" (from "Do the Right Thing") was controversial and uneasy to the conservative, much like Tony Kushner, much like The Beatles, and much like Malcolm X. They were needed because America was changing.
But you don't see that. All you want to see is a comedy show. All you want to see is something to take your mind away from what's happening outside in the world today. Social media hitting us left and right on Trump this, Hilary that, Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, acceptable vs. unacceptable, etc. etc. etc. on people telling other people how you're suppose to feel and act.
"It is the job of the satirist to parody authority, and that includes the settled liberal orthodoxy. Even if it's the world view of the performers." --from a review of the 104th Second City Mainstage show "Fool Me Twice, Deja Vu
To parody authority, it should be controversial. It should be uneasy to the conservative. If there's a sign that tells the audience that there's a zero tolerance policy of hate speech, then you're in the right space to be because controversy already hit in order for a sign like that to be necessary!
So in this new revue, the mindful cast does its job to "parody authority." With scenes that show us Donald Trump's sons getting downgraded after winning the election, a game show entitled "Who Wants to be President?," and the prohibition of abortion under a Trump presidency, the performers take the necessary risk to tell the audience what is and will happen in a new era of America.
We must remember that comedy thrives at questioning ideas, surprising with punchlines, and connecting at relativity.
Director Anthony LeBlanc orchestrates a smart running order that starts the audience off easy and then never lets up in energy. With an opening scene that uses overlapping dialogues to show us the parallels of a Cubs team winning the World Series and an assumption to Hilary Clinton winning the presidency, he and the cast set the overall tone to exactly what the title is, "The Winner ...of our Discontent."
After an introductory line sequence, the next full scene is a strong relationship scenario between a grown-up son and his mother. Reminiscent in tone of the sitcom Roseanne, we see mom smoking a joint in a car and her son joining her to talk about how they raise their kids. Aesthetically a parent telling her child that it's a crazy world out there and we can only do as much as we can to prepare the child. This is such fitting moral advice to the characters and the audience. Then LeBlanc uses three blackouts in a row.
If you're not familiar with "blackouts" - these are basically a one joke scene. Very quick. Why bring this up? Blackouts are like cleaning the canvass and using these quick gags to reset the audience for a new thought. LeBlanc uses three blackouts -- this is a like a hard reset. The audience laughs at three blackouts and then the next scene is an exercise scene between female friends, which is tightly written with jokes. Shantira Jackson, Kelsey Kinney, and Rashawn Scott are playful, invested to their relationship, and hit comedic timing. The energy stays up and scenes that follow gradually fluctuate where needed. Again - this is a smart running order. The cast keeps its consistency and understands the ride of a comedy show, which is a strong foundation of Second City.
A little history - when Bernie Sahlins took over as Director at Second City after Paul Sills, he "had come to believe that you put a lot of your best and smartest and, if possible, most politically relevant stuff up front to establish the credentials of the show more than the actors." (pg. 104, "Theatrical Improvisation" by Jeanne Leep).
"The Winner...of our Discontent" does exactly this. The first half hits us with a lot of politics and then the second half hits us with a lot of heart. We see scenes like a lesbian couple breaking up, a 14-year old girl not understanding why she's always sad, and even the hard life of being "Bat Boy."
The cast also continues to display their improv chops as Martin Morrow, Paul Jurewicz, and Jamison Webb bring us to neighbors watering their garden and conversing over audience’s suggestions of (in this show) hockey and underwater drones in China. The improv scene opens way for the performers to pick up the pace of the show within their own hands. Webb shows an amazing feat with the ability to provide on spot monologues. This performance by all three actors displays their experience in the spontaneous art form.
The 105th Second City Mainstage Revue “The Winner …of our Discontent” showed audiences what has transpired from an election year and with imagination, due to occur in years to come. Presenting charismatic stage presence, witty dialogue exchanges, and strong scene premises, the overall content is foundation for future revues to take further as America embarks into a new era.
Editorial note: I write this piece because this show needs a real review. This show is very important to the state of where America is now. This is a transitional show that not only parodies authority, but pushes the notion to even criticize the concept of whiteness. And when that criticism is erroneously taken personally instead of objectively, then sensitivity hits and a blindness forms over the art. Art is activism.
The quote at the top of this piece from the review of the 104th Mainstage was written by Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune. His recent review of the 105th was not a review. It was a sensitive reaction. It was a personal viewpoint of what a comedy theater should and should not do to cater to audience members who want to remain uncritical to the way in which bigotry has manifested in our society. Aren't theater reviews suppose to tell us what the show is about?