South Side of Heaven at Second City | Live review
In an early scene in South Side of Heaven, the Second City's 99th Mainstage revue, a Republican woman played by Holly Laurent has a dream encounter with Barack Obama, who's played by Sam Richardson. "Mr. President!" Laurent says, confused. "You're darker than I thought." The obvious but sharply delivered gag is about the difference in skin tone between Richardson and Barack, of course, but it could be applied in another sense to this new show. In tapping e.t.c. director Billy Bungeroth (The Absolute Best Friggin' Time of Your Life), the often oh-so-safe Mainstage seems to tap some of its younger sib's edgier sensibility as well.
The six members of South Side's ensemble have destiny on their minds in a show that starts off with a musical number about "faits accomplis." The effort at thematic cohesion is sometimes almost too strenuous—in a couple of sketches, references to fate feel shoehorned in—but it allows for a number of solid comedic callbacks in the second act. Elsewhere, Laurent and Katie Rich are a pair of slot machine enthusiasts who receive a mysterious visitor played by Timothy Edward Mason. "I think that was God," Rich says after he (He?) departs. "And he was fucking with us." That dark quality shows up again in a scene where a depressed teen is consoled by the promise that "everybody pretty much feels like shit."
Race plays a role in a number of scenes as well, most notably in a faceoff between Cubs fans (Mason and Tim Robinson) and Sox fans (Richardson and Edgar Blackmon) in which each inadvertantly reveals more about themselves than their team allegiance (key line, from Mason: "I don't like that there's a word that only half of us can say!") and in a late scene in which Richardson plays an exotic dancer who's deeply committed to his art. No new truths are being unearthed here, but every time they seem in danger of going for the easy joke, Bungeroth and the cast push it two steps further. There is a bit too much audience-patronizing mugging—Mason and Robinson both excessively employ what my companion called "punchline face"—and Rich, a performer with terrifically quirky comic instincts, largely fades into the background in her Mainstage debut; I'd like to see her get more to do. But this latest revue gets very close to Heaven.