Back in August, Second City Theatricals launched a touring show in collaboration with the online magazine Slate. Explicitly political but “completely unbiased,” Unelectable You
attempted a journalism-esque false balance, suggesting that candidates Trump and Clinton, insurgent-turned-surrogate Sanders, the vast field of failed Republican candidates and the whole presidential process were equally worthy of send-up. The stab at objectivity made much of the material feel timid.
Second City’s new mainstage cast makes no such claim to impartiality. The Winner…of Our Discontent, debuting just over a month after the election, delivers on its title: Its writer-performers are reeling, hurt, afraid and angry. Their reactions to the results of November 8, and the cognitive dissonance of its continuing repercussions, are understandably, admirably raw.
But is Second City raw actually Second City at its most effective? You could argue that the institution’s proficiency with polish and spin have historically served it best in terms of explicitly political material. While I wouldn’t suggest that it’s these performers’ job to try to understand “the other side” any more than it’s their job to mend the republic, the political rhetoric in the new revue—which can feel like a good three-quarters of the show—is both as righteous and as lopsided as the average Facebook feed.
Then again, perhaps any Trump voter coming to a comedy show in Chicago at this moment and expecting not to be challenged needs to be. And some of the most challenging material in that sense here is also very good, particularly when it comes to race. (The new cast of six—unlike the audience in this room most nights—is half nonwhite.)
Shantira Jackson, an appealing if still slightly precarious new cast member, is most captivating delivering a monologue about the future glory of Black Heaven, where Jesus is Prince, and vice versa. (If you’re looking for White Heaven, Jackson tells us, “that’s called Earth.”) Martin Morrow, new to the mainstage but already well known around town as a stand-up (Lincoln Lodge, Comedians You Should Know) and improviser (3Peat), is as charismatic as he is chameleonic.
The third newcomer, Kelsey Kinney, has an appreciably loopy presence; she stands out early as a pot-smoking grandma in a sketch with returning cast member Paul Jurewicz. Rashawn Nadine Scott continues to impress as one of Second City’s breakout stars of the past few years, serving as an anchoring factor here; Jamison Webb rounds out the cast as a genial, sometimes sly straight man.
Even the non-political sketches are an uneven mix: Scott slays in a well-executed bit about a high-school drama teacher taking over driver’s ed, while at the other end of the spectrum, a full-cast sketch featuring Webb as the enigmatic “Bassman” goes nowhere slow. You can see this cast settling in to a solid group rapport as time goes on. But with their energies so justifiably focused on this interregnal moment—even the opener, juxtaposing Cubs euphoria with electoral disillusionment, places us squarely in the first week of November 2016—Discontent will need to evolve more quickly than the average mainstage revue.
The Second City. Directed by Anthony LeBlanc. Written and performed by Shantira Jackson, Paul Jurewicz, Kelsey Kinney, Martin Morrow, Rashawn Nadine Scott, Jamison Webb. Running time: 2hrs; one intermission.