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Second City revue recycles the election and more

The cast of The Second City revue, "The Winner... of Our Discontent." |
© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2016

The best thing about The Second City’s new show, “The Winner … of Our Discontent,” is its title. And for that we can thank one William Shakespeare, and his play, “Richard III,” in which the warped, villainous Gloucester (soon to become the king of the title), outlines his plans for succession to the throne. Very clever (and apt) wordplay.

Somewhat recommended
When: Open run
Where: The Second City Mainstage, 1616 N. Wells
Tickets: $19 – $46
Info: http://www.SecondCity.com
Run time: 2 hours, with one intermission

Not surprisingly, the revue — the company’s 105th on the mainstage — starts with the two big surprise outcomes of the Fall season: Donald J. Trump’s election (by electoral vote) as  this country’s 45th president, and the Chicago Cubs’ triumph after a 108-year World Series championship drought. Well, no surprises there, and a little bit after-the-fact.

Rashawn Nadine Scott and Jamison Webb (front), and Kelsey Kinney and Martin Morrow (back), in The Second City’s Mainstage revue, "The Winner...of Our Discontent." (Photo: Todd Rosenberg) Photography 2016

Rashawn Nadine Scott and Jamison Webb (front), and Kelsey Kinney and Martin Morrow (back), in The Second City’s Mainstage revue, “The Winner…of Our Discontent.” (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)

So, onward (and downward) at a time when satire can often seem like an oxymoron, and when the small sign posted at the entrance to the mainstage announces what some might take as anathema to the whole undertaking of satire:

“Second City has a zero tolerance policy and does not allow hate speech of any kind whether it’s directed towards our artists, employees or patrons. Those verbalizing any homophobic, misogynistic, xenophobic, racist or prejudiced comments will be asked to leave.”

The sign is a direct outcome of events that took place earlier this season, when actors from Second City’s e.t.c. Stage left the show in the wake of what they considered intolerable outcries from the audience, with a major upheaval in the organization’s management occurring shortly afterward. But it also begs the question: How do you attack the ills of society without naming and/or acting them out? How, for example, do you conjure a racist or sexist character without letting the performer speak the very words that mark the character as such?

Actor tells how ‘audience abuse’ spurred him to quit Second City

But back to “The Winner,” directed by Anthony LeBlanc. It seems to find “safe” territory in a sketch that plays on cultural norms in various white suburbs, as a successful investment banker (Paul Jurewicz), who was raised in Lombard but is now living in Lake Forest, tells his visiting mother (Kelsey Kinney), that she can’t just smoke marijuana on his front porch. At the same time he reveals that he has a miserable marriage and thinks his kids are a——s.”

A few quick takes are somewhat funnier, including one about a clown showing up at a party (scary these days), and another about a dad more worried about his kid having access to potentially suffocating plastic bags than to guns.

And then it’s on to the notion of “a black heaven,” where, as Shantira Jackson (dressed throughout to look like a grown-up member of “The Little Rascals”) describes it as a place where “you never have to scan the room to see if you’re the only black person,” and where there would be rooms where you could “just be.” She goes on to explain that “The Rapture” began with the death of Prince and the opening of “the purple gates.”

Rashawn Nadine Scott is the driving force in a clever sketch about a Drivers Ed class led by a drama teacher who wants to put a sort of Method acting passion back into the subject. Never mind that some of her students (like the one played by Jamison Webb), just want to learn how to parallel park.

Martin Morrow (whose subtly bemused face is always worth watching) riffs on Alabama, and says that college football and racism there are the same thing (“white guys screaming at black boys”), while an amusement park in the state might have a ride called the Ku Klux Koaster.

And then it’s back to Trump, with Jackson suggesting he might appoint Dr. Oz as Surgeon General. There also is a darkly comic piece about abortion “options,” which comes with a very good punchline not to be given away here. “America likes to ignore the facts,” Jackson then tells us, in a sequence that is far from comic.

A sketch about the parting of incompatible roommates falls flat. So do those about a visit to a psychic, and a slew of too familiar, if verbally showy riffs by the guys on golf and guns. And then there’s the mournful finale as the cast gathers for a funeral and talks about how “we’ve all lost so much recently — hope, decency, celebrities, the Democratic Party,” and how the system is broken. On an upbeat note, it is noted that it’s through the cracks that light gets in.

Sadly, not enough light to make this revue leave me feeling any less discontented.