Jerry Minor is a Black Man and I Polack, Donny's Skybox Studio Theatre. Sketch comedy and cabaret-style theater thrive at Donny's Skybox, but there's probably no small venue in Chicago less suited to the constraints of solo performance. The stage is far too deep, and the stadium-style seating creates such a division between audience and performer that it would be a struggle for even the most talented actor to create an atmosphere that suggests intimacy. Unfortunately, Jerry Minor's 35-minute exploration of self, Jerry Minor Is a Black Man, doesn't really work in a theater that isn't playing to full capacity, and the show could use a rewrite or three before it successfully meets its stated aims. And as a performer, Minor is handicapped by his inability to maintain a sharp focus.
The script relies too often on puerile humor, and it never establishes a through line that would tie Minor's short, sharp riffs on African-American comedy to his real-life experiences with racism while growing up in a hostile, mainly white neighborhood in the midwest. Minor scores at least once with a confrontational bit where he plays Police Academy veteran Michael Winslow: by adding increasingly ridiculous sound effects to the story of a lynching, he goads the audience into laughing at the grizzly circumstances. He also does an ace Rudy Ray Moore impression, but there's little else in this self-serving piece of juvenilia that offers any comedic food for thought. Minor's support player Claudia Wallace is vastly underused as a cleaning lady, and his satire is so malnourished that the crass stereotypes offend more often than they enlighten.
Fellow Second City alumnus Jeff Michalski fares much better with his largely autobiographical I Polack. Compared to Minor, who zooms back and forth across the stage and gestures wildly, Michalski is somewhat leaden; the emphasis is on the material, not the performance. He has the good sense to use a four-person cast to bring his reminiscences of growing up Polish to life. Like Minor, his main demon is focus, and he admits as much toward the end of the piece, after attempting to intertwine three simultaneous narratives. But Michalski never resorts to cheap tricks to win the audience over, and his talent for storytelling is reflected in his material: I Polack is twice as long as Jerry Minor Is a Black Man but moves along at a much faster clip.