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BWW Review: THE SECOND CITY'S AMERICA; IT'S COMPLICATED! at The Kennedy Center

BWW Review: THE SECOND CITY'S AMERICA; IT'S COMPLICATED! at The Kennedy Center
The Cast of The Second City's "America; It's Complicated!"

I won't lie - there are some days that the world is just too much. Between children in cages, an impending war with Iran, the 2020 campaign cycle in full swing, and the fact that everything (even ice cream) has become politicized, it's impossible to find breathing space.

The Second City, known for both its poignant comedy and its incredible alumni list, feels your pain - it knows it's difficult to wrap your mind around the world we live in today, let alone navigate it. Their latest residency at The Kennedy Center, aptly titled America; It's Complicated!, is the perfect response. Smartly written, deftly performed, America; It's Complicated! somehow manages to both alleviate the stress of living in America today while also providing insightful commentary on it.

The show opens with blasting music, flashing lights, and chaos interrupted by small vignettes ranging from a party to a discussion about white noise machines to "The Cotton-Eye Joe." The pandemonium finally screeches to a halt, and a cast member helpfully addresses the audience: "I bet you're confused." The cast then pulls back and introduces their theme for the night: fault lines. They address how we, as a nation, are constantly coming up against each other in conflict over things, small and large, political and personal. They turn the concept from finding who is at fault in these arguments to instead be about the fault itself being where the blame lies, and ask the audience to consider these points of contention differently.

BWW Review: THE SECOND CITY'S AMERICA; IT'S COMPLICATED! at The Kennedy Center
Adam Schrek and Cody Dove in The Second City's "America; It's Complicated!"

But, lest this feel too much like a lecture, the show quickly takes off, heading into the first sketch. Throughout the performance, the audience is treated to a wonderful blend of skits, one-liners, and improvised scenes that include audience participation; many of the vignettes from the opening made an appearance as part of the longer segments later in the performance, which was quite clever. The show addresses serious issues like politics, gun control, healthcare, and immigration, but also balances with less polarizing issues like internet trolls, divorce, and what it's like to be trapped on an open-air tour bus. The best of the segments played with audience expectations, or, conversely, leaned into them fully; the fact that the show handled both so adeptly is a true credit to both the writing and the performers themselves.

The troupe for this production consists of six cast members: Mary Catherine Curran, Cody Dove, Jillian Ebanks, Jordan Savusa, Adam Shreck, and Holly Walker. The performance I reviewed unfortunately had an understudy for Ms. Curran, Sarah Dell'Amico, so I can't give a complete review of the exact skillset and interactions that most people would see. That said, if the core cast is anywhere near as good with Ms. Curran as they were with Ms. Dell'Amico, then their chemistry, charisma, and skill must be incredible; even with a different member, the troupe worked together seamlessly and hilariously. The Audience (i) attended with was utterly charmed (myself included), and it was clear that each member of the cast was enjoying themselves immensely. In addition to his role on stage, Mr. Shreck also helped write the show, along with co-writers Ali Barthwell and Emily Fightmaster (the rest of the cast contributed to writing as well). At the risk of spoiling specific jokes, I won't list any particular moments or characters, but I will note that the one overriding sense for the evening was one of joy; even when some of the tougher topics came up, the tone was kept just light enough for the audience to keep laughing even as the more serious implications sank in. Keeping such a careful balance - leaving an audience with important thoughts without those thoughts feeling heavy on their minds - is an incredible, praiseworthy skill.

BWW Review: THE SECOND CITY'S AMERICA; IT'S COMPLICATED! at The Kennedy Center
Holly Walker and Jillian Ebanks in The Second City's "America; It's Complicated!"

Supporting the troupe is a stellar crew. Director Ryan Bernier's experience with The Second City is clear in his clean, steady direction of this performance. Bob Knuth's scenic design was simple, effective, and delightful; the lights forming the main set piece, created in collaboration with lighting designer Mary Keegan, were fun and helped set the perfect tone. Elise Wattman's musical direction and Jesse Case's sound design and original music helped bring to life the original songs written for the show, which were some of the more delightful moments in an already enjoyable production.

As it's noted in America; It's Complicated!, the divisions we're facing in our society aren't showing any signs of fading away soon. But that doesn't mean they have to be unmanageable. And, with The Second City, discussing them can even be enjoyable.

The Second City's America; It's Complicated! is playing at The Kennedy Center Theater Lab through August 11. The performance runs approximately two hours, with one fifteen-minute intermission. Please note that this performance is recommended for ages 16 and up. More information on tickets can be found on the Kennedy Center's website.

Photo Credit: Jati Lindsay


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