Words, at Second City, Donny's Skybox Studio, through May 5. The premise driving this 90-minute show of performance poetry, sketches, songs, and improvisation--finish the sentence "Black is..."--has promise. But the results are often disappointing. The main exception is the poetry of Oscar Lester (aka Triple Blak), Jeanne Thompson Miller, Paradyse, and Cornelious "See" Flowers. Performed with great energy and magnetic rhythm, their poems offer carefully considered and crafted observations about heritage, strength, love, resilience, and independence.
Otherwise this revue, directed by Claudia Wallace, has few highlights. In one, the show's producer, Dionna Griffin, is confident and entertaining as a blues singer who's funny when she gets off track and starts griping about men. Some of Quinn McCoy's pointed observations on affirmative action and politics are good. Other high points are an unoriginal but surprisingly effective scene between a ham-fisted ventriloquist and his dirty-minded dummy and a sharply funny Bush-bashing song that simultaneously spoofs Destiny's Child.
Much of the rest is amateurish. Many of the performers lack confidence and seem uncomfortable onstage (I've never seen so many people perform with their eyes closed). The improvisations are reminiscent of introductory-level exercises, and while the sketches tackle difficult topics--sexual harassment, racism, Klan membership today, corporate hegemony--they lack focus, vivid characters, and, too often, humor.