Review: South Side of Heaven (Second City)

     
     

A morbid comedy of fate done to perfection

     
     

(L-R) Edgar Blackmon, Holly Laurent, Katie Rich, Tim Robinson, Timothy Edward Mason, and Sam Richardson. Photo by Michael Brosilow

  
The Second City presents
  
South Side of Heaven
  
Directed by Billy Bungeroth
Musical direction by Julie Nichols
at The Second City Mainstage, 1616 N. Wells (map)
open run  |  tickets: $22-$27  |  more info

Reviewed by Jason Rost

Watching “Saturday Night Live” this past year I’ve tried hard to believe it’s on its way back to a quality decade. There are currently some talented cast members and writers, a few with Second City roots. However, I am consistently disappointed. Every sketch comes off as a stale parody of a brilliant sketch from past golden ages of the show. I was not exactly sure what was missing until I saw The Second City’s 99th revue, The South Side of Heaven. After over 50 years, Second City has managed to continue to stay current, take risks and find ways to still shock audiences through comedy. South Side shakes the status quo with writing that is absurd, truthful, and at (L-R) Holly Laurent, Sam Richardson • Photo by Michael Brosilow.times, refreshingly dark. Don’t expect a laugh-line at the end of each scene in this revue. There are moments of silence and reflection to take in comedy writing that is more than just a collection of sketches. Director Billy Bungeroth (critically acclaimed for his e.t.c. show still running, The Absolutely Best Friggin’ Time of Your Life our review ★★★½) maintains an aspect of comedy that is currently non-existent in the NBC counterpart to Second City: it remains vital.

Bungeroth of course has an unbelievably talented group of actors and writers in Edgar Blackmon, Holly Laurent, Timothy Edward Mason, Katie Rich, Sam Richardson and Tim Robinson. While Richardson gives what may be the best Obama impersonation I’ve ever seen, if there’s only one name to store away from this cast, Robinson is the one. He is bravely sardonic and juvenile as the outgoing Mayor Daley, complete with a flapping cape that is the Chicago flag. This is juxtaposed by Edgar Blackmon’s no-nonsense rapping version of Rahm Emanuel who, with a mob boss’ glare, reminds us to “Pay your taxes.” Robinson also showcases his commitment to his scene partner, which happens to be a Chipotle burrito, in one of the scenes I most identified with, along with a horde of other Chicagoans whose mouth waters at the glimpse of the gold foil wrapped delicacy on a billboard.

It also must be noted that, in part, what makes the casting of this show extraordinary is that there are two African-American actors, something Second City and other Chicago comedy venues fail at historically. The impact is that this allows the stereotypes of whites and blacks to be played to the edge; it also allows the African-American actors to play roles that have nothing to do with race, such as a truly heartfelt, hilarious and truthful segment featuring Robinson and Richardson. Robinson is a 30-something who still believes he’s going to play basketball for the Bulls, while Richardson is a United Center security guard who has aspirations of being a ninja. Heck, as he states, “I’m practically a ninja already.” The friendship and imagination in this scene plays out delightfully, especially to a Gen X and Gen Y crowd who may or may not still play NBA Jam on an old Sega Genesis.

Laurent and Rich complement each other perfectly in their scenes, and hold their own as the female voice in this male dominated cast. They never quite play the sex object—even as Kobe Bryant’s escorts they are still tongue-in-cheek as opinionated Chicago Polish babes. In another piece, Laurent is an English teacher hiding domestic issues which the smart outspoken Rich, as her student, sees through. The message in this scene attests to teaching our youth more facts about how the “real world” works. The segment could also hold its own as an incredible ten-minute play.

     
(L-R) Holly Laurent, Tim Robinson. Photo by Michael Brosilow. (L-R) Timothy Edward Mason, Holly Laurent, Katie Rich, Edgar Blackmon •  Photo by Michael Brosilow
(L-R) Holly Laurent, Katie Rich • Photo by Michael Brosilow (L-R) Timothy Edward Mason, Tim Robinson, Sam Richardson, Edgar Blackmon • Photo by Michael Brosilow

Thematically, South Side makes a comedic case for one of the nation’s largest problems. In America, people do not think of themselves as poor or middle class. Everyone is wealthy and successful and only in a temporary rut. We are constantly looking upward. People continue to overspend and over-live thinking that the future version of them will be rich enough to afford it. This is why people love American Idol and The Lottery, because it provides the illusion that “Joe Schmo” can become an overnight millionaire, or, why Mayor Daley fought so hard to get Chicago the Olympics, even when it wasn’t fiscally reasonable. South Side professes that people might try realizing that EVERYBODY’S life is miserable regardless of how perfect other people’s lives seem to be. While the show doesn’t entirely bash having dreams and aspirations, it does suggest that there are simply certain fates that cannot be altered. Perhaps only Cubs fans truly understand this notion, and in the best sketch of the night, the rousing debate between Cubs fans and Sox fans transcends the “Red Eye” obligatory June front cover and encroaches upon the territory of Jabari Asim (author of “The N-Word”).

The outrageous and darkly absurd also make several appearances throughout the night. Laurent has created a character reminiscent of Mary Catherine Gallagher, only the awkwardness is amped way up. A scene in with Robinson is the driver of a Chicago tourist horse drawn carriage ride (with Richardson dedicating all of himself to the part of the horse) goes to a place you don’t see coming, and keeps going. And Robinson earns the full exposure award of the night for unabashedly leaving nothing on stage as a captivating dancer.

(L-R) Tim Robinson, Sam Richardson • Photo by John McCloskeyAnother absolutely brilliant scene stars the quick witted Timothy Edward Mason as a TSA agent. Without giving too much away, this segment revolves around the new full body screening at airport security check-in sites. However, it becomes about so much more as it uses the audience, without their knowledge, to unquestionably prove how fragile our identities really are in the over exposed society we live in.

The technical and musical elements play an exceptionally large role in this production. Spotlights don’t always illuminate what we should be looking at. Julie B. Nichols’ music direction provides for very effective live accompaniment. Her transition music is a heavy quick dance beat that keeps the crowd lively. Sarah E. Ross’ set screams contemporary…and Apple Store, something that is both visually fresh and opens itself up to parody for the actors.

For those of you who treat Second City a little like Blue Man Group (you saw it 7 years ago and enjoyed it and you’d like to get back one day), do not make this mistake with South Side. All Second City shows are not created equal. There is no better way to come out of your winter hibernation than to laugh uncontrollably at this show. It may even make you change some of your Facebook privacy settings, reanalyze race in Chicago, and accept what life has dealt you with a stiff drink taking in this revue, created by some of the best in the world at what they do. You might even call them the “Montell Jordan” of comedy.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

(L-R) Holly Laurent, Timothy Edward Mason, Katie Rich • Photo by Michael Brosilow

South Side of Heaven is in an open run at The Second City Mainstage, 1616 N. Wells. Shows are Tuesday through Thursday 8PM, Friday and Saturday 8PM and 11PM, and Sunday 7PM. Tickets are $22 Sunday thru Thursday and $27 Friday and Saturday. Tickets are available by phone at (312) 337-3992 or online at www.SecondCity.com.

     
     

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REVIEW: Holiday in the Heights Review (Second City)

  
  

Nobody’s spared in this laugh-out-loud holiday revue

  
  

Holiday in Heights cast - Second City - Metropolis Arts

   
Second City and Metropolis Performing Arts Centre presents
   
Holiday in the Heights Review
  
By various Second City ensemble members
at
Metropolis Theatre , Arlington Heights (map)
through Dec 30  |  tickets: $30-$35  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Besides the usual caroling, tree-trimming and pigging-out on comfort food, ‘tis also the season for slogging through overcrowded malls, meeting new in-laws, sending out a year’s worth of cards, and driving cross-country with whiny kids.

But at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, ‘tis also the season for Holiday in the Heights, Second City’s sketch comedy and improv holiday show. The ensemble includes Edgar Blackmon, Ross Bryant, Angela Dawe, Derek Shipman and Natalie Sullivan.

SC_Holiday_05As with most Second City reviews, Holiday in the Heights opens with a musical number. Though a bit difficult to hear, it’s quite catchy and entertaining, with the ensemble assuring us that “Christmas makes everything ok.” 

Following this ditty, the ensemble moves into a variety of sketches with various ensemble members covering topics like meeting your girlfriend’s Jewish parents, rewritten Christmas stories with political twists, visiting the in-laws you dislike, et.al.

Each ensemble member brings something unique to the stage and they all work together as a group to create hilarious parodies of holiday merriment. The two stand out performances of Act 1 include an improvised, never-been-heard Christmas story and a GPS-directed car ride.

The improvised Christmas story is based off audience participation, lending a title to the yet-to-be-created story. From there each ensemble member tells a bit of the story, building on what the others have said. Watching the ensemble instantaneously create a random story and having to continue to build on it and expand the narrative is both hilarious and amazing to watch. It’s clear that the ensemble has talent for thinking on their feet.

The GPS car ride skit tells the story of a couple driving to visit her in-laws for the holidays. The couple discusses the differences in their family’s traditions – yoga and sharing time vs. watching football and not talking to each other – and through it the GPS not only directs their route, but begins to direct their lives in hilarious and insulting ways. The great thing about this skit is that it’s relevant to the world today and also very clever and witty.

SC_Holiday_04For all that is funny about the first act, I do wish it had provided a little more to the funny bone. That being said, the second act picks up the pace and funny factor. Act 2 flows smoother and also delivers a wider variety of reasons to let out a laugh.

The highlight sketch of Act 2 is a family reading their holiday newsletter Mad Lib style, allowing audience members to fill in words with whatever they can think of. Between the audience’s word choices and the family’s story, I was laughing so hard my abs started to ache. The ensemble plays off the audience participation well and cleverly incorporates their choices into the story.

Some sketches, although entertaining, do have the potential to offend when based on politics, religion and culture. But of course this is par for the course for Second City.

Note: This show contains more than enough adult content and language to make your holiday a bawdy one. Enjoy!

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

SC_Holiday_06

Holiday in the Heights plays at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, through December 31. Tickets cost $29.50 or $34.50 for stage table seats and can be purchased by calling 847-577-2121.

        
        

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