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Review: ‘Nothing to Lose (But our Chains)’ at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

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When the Born Again have the opportunity to witness, they do it before their congregation, and everyone shouts “Hallelujah!”

The full ensemble. Photo by Scott Suchman.

When the Stand Up Comics have that same opportunity, they do it before their adoring fans, and everyone stands and applauds.

The Second City’s Felonious Munk has brought his witness to a new life, his Nothing to Lose (But our Chains), into Woolly’s warm theatrical home.

A story of transformation, Nothing to Lose is told sober, but with just enough cultural spoof, witty repartee, and a hilariously nagging conscience to keep the grin and chuckles alive and well.

So don’t expect the same old Second City comedy that entertained DC last year with its Black Side of the Moon.

This material is personal; this material is autobiographical; this material is a journey of redemption.

Felonious Munk’s autobio-tale takes his Mammoth audience from his birth to a teenage mother, to his near-adoption into the home of a wealthy family friend, to his college crack-dealing, car-stealing, near-murderous stupidity that landed him in a Virginia maximum security prison for six years. Eventually, he’s making viral videos for corporate America, visiting Ferguson, Missouri, to protest for social justice, to finally making poignant-funny for Second City.

Felonious Munk, McKenzie Chinn, and Angela Alise. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Directed by Anthony LeBlanc, Munk and his four ensemble members (Angela Alise, McKenzie Chinn, Calvin Evans, and Odinaka Ezeokoli) keep the verbal tête-à-têtes lively, with actors popping out above or from the wings to add their bits of commentary.

Sometimes the exchanges are between Munk and his feisty conscience, played by lanky and zany Ezeokoli; sometimes they are between Munk and his Mom, played by the seriously sincere Alise; sometimes those tête-à-têtes are between the nimble Chinn, as an ex-girlfriend, and the versatile Evans as a Munk-whupping step-dad.

And, to be sure, sometimes the whole gang gathers for a lineup in front of Colin K. Bills’ provocative set: they stand on the street corner where Munk sold his crack or in the prison where he did everything he could to protect his manhood.

But this show is all about Munk and his narrative, which subordinates all of the funny, hip culture business to its tale of transgression. After all, but by the luck of a bullet’s trajectory, this redemption-comedy could have easily turned into an un-funny tragedy where there are dead people.

Perhaps the weight, and seriousness, of Munk’s tale and of the times in which we live, casts its thick shadow over too much of the proceedings. The ensemble does succeed at times to find the comic light in the situation: they find that Tyler Perry or Steve Harvey reference. For the most part, however, what’s taking place on stage is no joke, for lives are in the balance.

Indeed, with Michael Brown and Tamir Rice killed by police, with scores of other black men, Latinos and Native Americans, the poor and mentally disturbed gunned down by cops without so much as a warrant; and, indeed, with countless other people murdered by handguns and assault rifles, traumatized by sexual assault and harassment, debilitated by drugs and alcohol, and PTSD; and a growing poverty in a land of multiplying millionaires and celebrities–if you want to laugh to keep from crying, or jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, that’s one thing.

But if what you want is a call to action….

Or, if as Karl Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto: “Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains….”

Or, bringing it a little closer to home, as former Black Panther and Black Liberation Army soldier Assata Shakur said: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

If that’s what Nothing to Lose (But our Chains) calls for in these times of fascist sunsets and neo-liberal neologisms, then….

Well, then you should find your way to Woolly Mammoth, for you have nothing to lose but your chains.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with one intermission

Nothing to Lose (But our Chains) plays through December 31, 2017, at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company – 641 D Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 393-3939 or purchase them online.

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