Life: it’s not about good guys or bad guys. It’s about good choices and bad choices. And, Felonious Munk, a bearded comedian out of Chicago courtesy of Second City, is a solid, candid guy who’s made some questionable ones. In Nothing to Lose (But Our Chains) he lays it all out there.
When he was just a kid, he chose to sell drugs, own a gun, and seek revenge on a man who robbed him of $600. Yep, he shot him. Then stole a car, which got him a 32-year suspended sentence. All of this after an uneven childhood filled with a loving, but ill-equipped, mother, shady characters, and an encounter with his would-be-adopted family, who built their eventual adopted son a full backyard basketball court.
Munk seems to take it all in stride, detailing—with the help of a stellar ensemble—his path to now through a seemingly non-linear series of skits, stand-up, and, even, song that, ultimately, connect. Moments (real and imagined). Conversations. People. Observations. Together, they form a fully cohesive narrative about the show’s centerpiece: Munk himself.
The ensemble—Angela Alise, McKenzie Chinn, Calvin Evans, and Odinaka Ezeokoli—step into multiple roles, playing Munk’s mother (Alise), his father/stepfather/uncle (Evans), Queen, a composite of all the woman he’s not really loved (Chinn), and his conscious (Ezeokoli). Evans is often a cocky slime ball who says the dumbest things at the wrong time. And, while Munk insists his conscious is too sensitive, Ezeokoli gives a lighthearted portrayal with an honest edge that is anything but saccharine. Alise is marvelous, especially as Munk’s mother, who caps the first act with a spirited song beseeching her son to apologize for his wrongdoings. Everyone joins in, heightening the chorus as they close in around him, singing, “You’re a waste of space…you’re a disgrace.”
Munk, who wrote the show, knows his own shortcomings. Knows how others, including his own family, have thought of him. Knows his truth. And owns it, without overdoing it. Meaning, he hones in on the moments that matter, revealing their nuances with stunning authenticity and acceptance. Like, the one prison incident that encapsulates how his stint fundamentally changed him.
“The sound of loss,” he says. “It echoes 20 years later.”
Act II moves from full focus on Munk to a larger social commentary thread, which isn’t totally shocking since the very title came through Assata Shakur as a likely variation on Karl Marx. Still, not gonna lie, the thread feels a bit like a castaway from the mothership. Related and tethered. Headed someplace intriguing and grand, but a castaway nonetheless. As the act delves into the events in Ferguson, MO, it doesn’t come back full circle to Munk, ending instead with the cool, calm, command of Chinn, who adds sophistication to everything, delivering what can only be described as a transcendent poem.
Nothing to Lose (But Our Chains)
closes December 31, 2017
Details and tickets
This is a minor grievance on my part for the humor and depth that Munk brings to his self-actualization makes for glorious entertainment, full of bite and blister. That said, the show also successfully jumps around in time and place using the quick-change nature of improv, whose spirit envelops the whole production.
Nothing to Lose is also a sweet tribute to and reconciliation with the women in Munk’s life and commentary on being black in America, which is nowhere near the same as being white in America. If you don’t accept that truth, you probably won’t enjoy this show. Likewise, language and heavy content (prison, drugs, guns, abortion, etc…) prevail. The couple next to me did not return post-intermission, but my real litmus test was my own 66-year-old, Midwestern, Republican-voting mother, who found the show interesting and often funny. Indeed, I did see her laughing, and we’ve since continued to talk thoughtfully about it.
And, there’s the power of a fierce, magnetic presence like Felonious Munk, whose Nothing To Lose (But Our Chains) is a story of personal triumph that lays bare the very fragility of American society, culture, and exceptionalism.
Nothing to Lose (But Our Chains) Written by Felonious Monk. Directed by Anthony LeBlanc. Featuring Felonious Monk, Angela Alise, McKenzie Chinn, Calvin Evans, and Odinaka Ezeokoli. Production: Colin K. Bills, Set and Lighting Design; Robert Croghan, Costume Design; Jesse Case, Sound Design and Original Music; Mick Napier, Creative Consultant; Taylor Barfield, Production Dramaturg. Stage Managed by Jaci Entwiste. Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.