The Second City’s new Mainstage Revue, THE WINNER…OF OUR DISCONTENT, grabs our post-election angst and runs with it. The performance I attended started more than 15 minutes late – curiously, without explanation from Second City’s otherwise helpful and hardworking staff – but quickly made up for lost time.
The packed audience exploded with laughter at the very first sketch: On one side of the stage, three Cub fans watch in joyful disbelief as their team wins the World Series. On the other side, three Election Night viewers watch in horror as swing states go to Donald Trump. Thus, Second City revisits the week when many Chicagoans put more faith in Nate Silver’s polling than the Cubs’ pitching.
The show’s cast of six is evenly divided by race and gender – three black and three white, three men and three women, all worthy of mention: Paul Jurewicz, Rashawn Nadine Scott, Jamison Webb, Shantira Jackson, Kelsey Kinney and Martin Morrow. In terms of talent, they are a balanced team. In terms of subject matter, they drill fearlessly beneath the surface of racial discomfort.
When a black client tells her black computer geek that she’s having trouble with her laptop’s “Alt” key, he connects the problem via rapid wordplay to the Alt-Right movement and its “diversity is code for white genocide” mantra. In a later scene, the same actress describes “black heaven” as a place where Prince is Jesus and where she won’t have to scan a room to find another black person. (The audience that night was almost entirely white and it took her a moment to find someone of color in the crowd.)
Discomfort for all
There is plenty of discomfort on issues beyond race. A dad finds a gun in a plastic bag under his son’s bed and admonishes him not for the gun (which is legal) but instead for the plastic bag (which is not). A scene between a 14-year-old girl and a psychic pokes fun at adolescence and fortune telling, but then turns into a revelation of profound grief.
A darker second act
Silliness for its own sake is in short supply, especially in the darker second act. But the audience stayed with the revue’s biting hilarity throughout. Hearing her grandson’s despair over Trump’s win, a black grandmother asks the boy about his own efforts during the election. Facebook posts, tweets…not much else. Grandma tells him about a previous election season when she canvassed in Iowa, spending three tough weeks as “the only black person in the state.” In just a few lines, this woman conveys what civic engagement really demands.
This is not a revue for those seeking to escape our troubling public discourse. But for anyone with doubts about America’s direction right now, THE WINNER…OF OUR DISCONTENT is not to be missed.
Recommended for: Fans of comedy with a purpose
Not Recommended for: Fans of comedy without a purpose
Now through July 27
Tuesday – Thursday at 8:00 pm
Friday & Saturday at 8:00 & 11:00 pm
Sunday at 7:00 pm
This performance runs about 2 hours with one 10 minute intermission and should be considered rated R.
The Second City Mainstage Theatre
1616 N. Wells Street, Chicago
Stage photos by Todd Rosenberg
Exterior photos by Timothy M. Schmidt
About the Author
Susan Lieberman is a playwright, journalist and script consultant who commits most of her waking hours to Chicago theatre. Her Jeff-winning play Arrangement for Two Violas will be published by Chicago Dramaworks in spring 2017.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.