Review: Second City's Provocative and Edgy BLACK SIDE OF THE MOON at Woolly Mammoth

By: Nov. 18, 2016

After the most contentious election in American history, is a show that pushes boundaries and uses humor in asking audiences to reconsider their notions on race really what we need right now? The answer is a resounding and emphatic yes!

Second City's proactive, edgy and downright hysterical Black Side of the Moon at Woolly Mammoth Theatre is an honest conversation about race and gender in America. Using comedy and spoken word, this sketch show mixes astute societal observations with original skits. All of this is done under the banner 'We are not a monolith,' a powerful post-election message.

However, Black Side of the Moon is more than just spreading a message, it's about communicating an experience: the black experience in America and what that means. The show's conscience never allows it to become mean-spirited or divisive, nor does it shy away from sensitive matters. Humor, as a tool, breaks down the barriers providing a forum with which the audience and cast can come together.

Black Side of the Moon takes inspiration from variety shows In Living Color, Chappelle's Show and Saturday Night Live, while it's more politically-charged material is sure to conjure up memories, for older audiences, of Laugh In and The Smother's Brother Comedy Hour. The format is two acts, one hour each, with three-to-four sketches followed by a standout routine. Billy Bungeroth's efficient direction and Colin Bills, simple, yet swift lightening design ensure that the show's pace never dwindles.

Among the highlights was a superb and thought-provoking monologue by Felonious Munk as President Barack Obama trying to reason why America elected Donald Trump as his successor. Munk mixes a dry wit, biting sarcasm and wondering curiosity that gives a portrayal so honest, you could imagine the actual president having this conversation. This intelligent performance doesn't try to slam Trump supporters, only to understand the political behaviors and beliefs of voters.

Dewayne Perkins was absolutely electrifying in a sketch that had him playing a hip-hop DJ who loves show tunes. The setup being Perkins, in full hip-hop persona, getting ready to play a high school dance and just when you think you're about to hear Jay-Z "Jellicle Cats" comes out of the stereo. The brilliance of both the sketch and Black Side of the Moon is its ability to flip situations to the completely unexpected, making you challenge your own assumptions.

Not all sketches will leave you laughing, others will provoke thought. Sonia Denis has a powerful monologue about the inherent hypocrisy between the Black Lives Matter and feminist movements, raising profound questions about society's objectification of woman and sexual assault victims. Denis impassioned delivery puts an exclamation point on the moment, leaving you to ponder it long after leaving Woolly Mammoth.

The singular set features a street corner with a brownstone stoop and weather-worn store front with faded concert posters. It's evocative of the Huxtable Family home from The Cosby Show, and the sitcom's namesake receives his fair share of comeuppance thanks to Dave Helem spot-on impersonation. Black Side of the Moon doesn't so much as comment on the Cosby situation as they do mock the man and what his image has become.

Much of Black Side of the Moon's jokes and standup land with the comedic skill you'd expect from Second City. This is, after all, the training ground for all the Saturday Night Live greats: Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi and Tina Fey to name a few.

Finally, there's no doubt that the election was on everyone's mind - the cast, crew, and audience. Black Side of the Moon may be uncomfortable for some and a welcome experience for others. However, its use of humor cannot be understated. 'We are not a monolith' may be the show's message, but the experience of laughing together can be powerful instrument in healing a divided country.

Runtime: Two hours with one intermission

Warning: Adult language and situations are featured in this show

Photo: Felonious Munk. Credit: Woolly Mammoth Theatre

Second City's Black Side of the Moon runs thru January 1, 2017 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre - 641 D St NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets please call (202) 393-3939 or click here.


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