Spine: The Second City’s ‘Black Side of the Moon’ at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

“We are not a monolith! We are not a monolith! We are not a monolith!” chanted the six-member cast at the start of Woolly Mammoth’s Second City’s Black Side of the Moon.

And, indeed, that large umbrella casts its shadow over Black Side’s rollicking humor as its multiple skits, standup routines, and good-bye Obama songs delight Woolly’s mostly white, upscale hip audience with imaginative takes on African American life.

So, indeed, monoliths are for geologists and tourists, not communities of color or otherwise.

But humor is for everyone, even humor that relies on monoliths.

So what is a monolith?

The Rock of Gibraltar is a monolith, and a tourist destination.

The Mainstream Media is a monolith, frequently repeating the same stories with the same headlines, almost at the same time.

The NRA is a monolith, crossing arms and marching in lock-step to their interpretation of the 2nd amendment.

But people? No! For even ideologues who devoutly espouse a singular belief are, on occasion, caught with their pants down in disbelief.

So let’s talk about monoliths. Let’s speak of humor, the Black Side kind: some of which had me falling out of my white skin; some of it giggling like an inside joke.

A black guy takes his white friend to a Black Lives Matter demonstration. The friend is appreciative, so he returns the favor by taking the black friend to an anti-gluten rally, where there is also a counter demonstration shouting: “White Flower! White Flower!”

(from left): Dewayne Perkins, Sonia Denis, Felonious Munk, Dave Helem, Angela Alise, and Torian Miller. Photo by Teresa Castracane.
(from left): Dewayne Perkins, Sonia Denis, Felonious Munk, Dave Helem, Angela Alise, and Torian Miller. Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Or there was Dave Helm, in standup, who used to be a geometry teacher, as his day job, in the Chicago public schools. On mornings following late night comedy, when teaching math was not in the equation, he’d play a different game with his students: “Secret Roast.” The kids would write down embarrassing attributes about fellow classmates on index cards without naming the classmate. Then the class would guess who was being described. Nothing could go wrong with that game, right?

Or the other standup, Sonia Denis, whose mom is Rwandan (as in the recent genocide), who nevertheless calls her mom to complain that she is feeling sad about her life, before she then goes to her therapist who tells her that if she were really determined to commit suicide she would have done it already.

And then there was the Black Side’s version of a Christmas Carol. Of course, first they had to get some white guy to volunteer from the Woolly audience. After about 20 minutes–I’m just joking–a guy from Georgia stepped forward into Christmas Past, Present, and Future. The laughs just wouldn’t stop.

Of course, not all things were for the laughs. A number of scenes and moments were direct challenges, as when Ms. Denis got cat-called by two brothers organizing a Black Lives Matter event. She responded with an impassioned  plea for women’s rights, from equal pay to basic respect.

Or Torian Miller and Dewayne Perkins sentimental love scene at a Manassas high school, where Mr. Miller’s character had been the lone African American. So what if the demographics of Manassas weren’t quite right, their scenes and many others revealed the complexity of life and dreams in the Black community.

Or Felonious Monk’s Obama impersonation where he cuts through the political niceties of his post-election persona and tells everyone present just how disappointed he is that, despite the historic nature of his presidency, Trump will now be President of the United States.

They followed that soap-box with the good-bye Obama (Barry) song that, with Angela Alise singing solo, was indeed a touching tribute.

Mr. Monk also does standup, a routine that begins with him pronouncing: “I like titties!” Soon, however, his solo routine turns into the evening’s most sophisticated  comedy. When we learn that he now has a son, who also likes titties, the monolith, as absence, comes clearly into view.

Laughing big, laughing small, or laughing not at all–Black Side of the Moon is a  cultural portrait that resists all attempts to categorize it.

Running Time: Two hours, with one intermission.


The Second City’s Black Side of the Moon plays through January 1, 2017 at  Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company – 641 D Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (301) 928-2738, or purchase them online.

Ravelle Brickman reviews The Second City’s Black Side of the Moon.

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Robert Michael Oliver
Robert Michael Oliver, Ph.D., considers himself a Creativist. He has been involved in education and the performing arts in the Washington area since the 1980s. He, along with his wife, Elizabeth Bruce, and Jill Navarre, co-founded The Sanctuary Theatre in 1983. Since those fierce days in Columbia Heights, he has earned his doctorate in theater and performance studies from the University of Maryland, raised two wonderful children, and seen more theater over the five years he worked as a reviewer than he saw in the previous 30. He now co-directs the Sanctuary's Performing Knowledge Project. He has his first book of poetry, The Dark Diary: in 27 refracted moments, due for publication by Finishing Line Press later this year.



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