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Second City's Trump-Skewering New Revue Isn't Designed To Go Down Easily

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 12, 2016 6:00PM

Photo courtesy The Second City

During the intermission of Friday’s performance of the new Second City Mainstage Revue—The Winner…Of Our Discontent—some patrons were, well, discontent.

One woman complained, “The concierge at the hotel got us these tickets because we were told Second City was world class comedy. We expected a couple Trump jokes but not the whole ensemble. This is awful and uncalled for.” Her companion addressed the rest of the group, “I told her it would be like Saturday Night Live—not funny.”

They might not have been so surprised at the content had they listened to the new pre-recorded introduction, inviting people tempted to hurl inflammatory slurs during the performance to "go home, yell them into a pillow, and then suffocate yourself with it."

Of course, much of Second City’s clientele tends to be tourists, many of whom are probably expecting a night of yuck ‘em up comedy, so perhaps area concierges should start telling potential patrons that that has never been Second City’s thing. This goes triply for potential patrons who are fans of the current President-elect; they will find little to laugh at here.

The Winner…Of Our Discontent is a show that struggles to balance comedy with outrage over the political and cultural landscape it has to face. It’s not as cohesive as this year's earlier excellent, tragically short-run, Second City Etc. revue A Red Line Runs Through It, but it does seem to grapple with many of the issues—racism, homophobia, political dystopia—that the previous production brought to the surface.

Photo courtesy The Second City

The Winner…Of Our Discontent is written be ensemble members Paul Jurewicz, Rashawn Nadine Scott and Jamison Webb, Shantira Jackson, Kelsey Kinney and Martin Morrow. And it balances the expected mix of short interstitials, longer skits, improv acrobatics and song that Second City is known for. What’s different this time around is that while in the past the revues felt more politically agnostic, this crew has decided that it’s time to take a pretty concrete stand instead of mining easy laughs. In particular there is a freeform poetry piece, that while informed by audience suggestions, still feels like it will be diatribe delivered by Jackson against becoming complacent in the current climate. It’s not funny; it’s angry. And it feels both uncomfortable and entirely justified.

Jackson also shines during a piece envisioning “Black Heaven,” an afterlife where Prince is Jesus. It manages to balance potent insight that pokes and provokes with just the right amount of humor to leaven the tension. It helps the message hit home more deeply.

The revue is shot through with those moments, but there are still plenty of laughs. Webb in particular got a huge reaction the evening we saw him for a ridiculously verbose, Dan Aykroyd-esque riff on golf and guns during an improv piece set around yard work. And Scott shines in her ability to balance comforting roles with prickly pieces, and the occasional stunning outburst of song.

A high point is the frenzied physical and largely wordless performance of Jurewicz as a Cubs batboy. And we challenge any attendee throughout the show’s run to ever think of the words “The Bassman” without vivid images of the ensemble sketch constricted around that character. It begins humorously before skidding off that path into delightfully deranged territory that may make you question whether someone spiked your drink with LSD.

Photo courtesy The Second City

But at its core, The Winner…Of Our Discontent wants to make us both laugh and think. At one point in the production a character says “If you’re feeling sick, that’s a good sign that you’re not fine, because you shouldn’t be.” it’s directed at another performer but is obviously meant to telegraph to the audience that the group is aware their message might not be easy to swallow.

This is balanced by one of the final lines of the revue, though. Delivered by Webb, it lets the audience know that American may be broken, but a crack is how the light gets in, and that can illuminate a firmer path forward.

The Winner…Of Our Discontent feels like a piece still in progress, and I suspect that may remain true for its entire run. And that feels fitting—and perfectly positioned to continue to try and translate the turbulence of our times into provocative comedy.

The Winner…Of Our Discontent opens Dec. 15 on the Chicago Mainstage,
1616 N. Wells St., with performances running every Tuesday to Sunday night. Tickets starts at $19.