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Kill Whitey

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KILL WHITEY, Black Comedy Underground, at Donny's Skybox Studio. Chicago has long needed a group like the Black Comedy Underground. Not just because the improv comedy scene, still dominated by white males, could use shaking up but because there's so much potential comic material in African-American life, and only African-Americans can mine this territory without coming off as patronizing or racist or both. The strongest moments in the Black Comedy Underground's first show are those that do just that, as when Clinton John Lewis comically punctures the pomposity of black nationalists still obsessed with slavery or when Frances Callier and Claudia Wallace reproduce with hilarious accuracy the way some African-American women speak simultaneously when they're excited.

But, sadly, long stretches of Kill Whitey fail to live up to the show's promising premise: five African-American wannabe screenwriters meet every week to discuss their flawed script ideas. Partly the overarching story--created in rehearsal through improvisation under John Hildreth's direction--needs more structure and focus. But also the quality of the performances varies widely, from fresh and inspired to flat and uninteresting. The women in the show turn in the best work, which can be brilliant--Callier is particularly killing as a homeless crackhead--while the two men lean too often on cliches or hold back, failing to fully explore the comedy in their characters' situations. --Jack Helbig

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