You know how sometimes you laugh til you hurt? Or when you’re hurt so much the only real response left is laughter? Those are the real underpinnings of good comedy: tell the truth, then find the underlying ridiculousness about it. That’s why so much breakthrough humor in the last century has come from populations on the fringe: immigrant, Jewish, female, and black comedians have especially sharpened axes to swing.
They’ve honed those axes well at Second City with The Second City’s Black Side of the Moon, and this young ensemble, most with a solid stand-up background, come armed with comedy and insight. Second City is really hitting the boards these days with different troupes performing a variety of holiday shows – two more: Twist Your Dickens and Nut-Cracking Holiday Revue can also be seen in our area soon. This show skewers politics and society from an African American perspective.
Black Side of the Moon felt far more complex and nuanced than this reviewer expected from an improv comedy show. Whether that can be attributed in part to the rawness of the recent election, or to the sheer talent of the ensemble remains a bit fuzzy. I suspect it’s a bubbling cauldron of all of the above- but if that’s so, the performers brought it and then some. Wisely, the largely scripted show, most of which was written before November 4th, had such truths in it that the surprising outcome of the day was brought into even sharper focus.
The show starts with a Hee Haw/Laugh In style opener, with one-liners flung across a Sesame Street style urban set of brownstone, brick walls and posters- with a well placed large looming image of Michelle Obama as if she’s running for prez in 2020– albeit wih a ’70s ‘fro done up Foxy Brown style. It’s a nice gradual segue of what’s to come; with short scenes interspersed with stand-up by individual performers, and some original musical pieces scattered in for good measure.
There are some genuinely poignant moments: Sonia Denis and DeWayne Perklins are a tour de force as a black yuppie couple in Petworth meeting their new neighbors- also played by Denis and Perkins. They’re good actors as well, for the rapidfire scene took us from mere laughs at the yuppies’ expense to genuine amazement at the spoken-out-loud truth of what they really wanted.
Another recurring character piece showcases Torian Miller and Dewayne Perkins as a gay couple going to their respective 10 year high school reunions. One of the husbands went to an all-white school, the other to an all-black school, and the domestic tension between the two men, as they see where the other is from, is both funny and rather sweet. I wanted to see more from these well fleshed out characters.
Second City’s The Black Side of the Moon
closes January 1, 2017
Details and tickets
Headliner Felonious Munk (born Dennis Banks) finished the stand-up sets with a fine rumination on how far we’ve come. And the improv piece of the evening, which starts out with finding a white guy in the audience, (who was so perfectly White Guy this reviewer wondered if the gentleman in question was really a plant), does a nice twist on how things would be different if Europeans had been the minority in history.
There are a few flaws in the production. Though it must be said all the comics showed professional poise, the stand-up portions were the least successful parts of the evening, as the company is strongest when working as a whole. And it’s hard to keep up steam in a comedy show split by a 20 minute intermission. There was a decided lull in the top of the second act as the audience settled in.
One standout moment in the show is the song- “We’re Gonna Miss You Barack,” by performer Dave Helem and songwriter Julie Nichols. Written before the election results, it was both hilarious and truth spoken out loud. We laughed, but it hurt.
Black Side of the Moon . Director: Billy Bungeroth . Assistant Director: Lili-Anne Browne . Ensemble: DeWayne Perkins, Felonious Munk, Angela Alise, Sonia Denis, Dave Helem, Torian Miller . Set & Lighting Designer: Colin K Bills . Sound Designer: Julie Nichols . Costuem Designer: Robert Croghan . Stage Manager: William Collins . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.