Seven Years in Joliet | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Seven Years in Joliet 

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SEVEN YEARS IN JOLIET, Second City Outreach Program, Donny's Skybox Studio, Piper's Alley. The terrific title for this alternative revue comes from one sketch: two matrons from the "Women's Auxiliary of Wilmette" offer their services as motivational speakers to Cook County Jail inmates. The scene almost writes itself. But that's a problem with several other sketches: the humor of Frances Callier's staging comes from the almost automatic reversal of stereotypes, which unfortunately tells us little.

Still, it's fun to watch slumming whites on a "cultural awareness" field trip to a black cinema trying to blend in by talking trash--to the dismay of the audience, who just want to watch the movie. An ESPN sportscast covering a match between the Chicago Cops and the South Side Negroes offers play-by-play coverage of mutual misunderstanding. Other easy bits include an infomercial for a date-rape drug, a sketch about a Latino cleaning service that dabbles in romantic advice, and another about a gun-toting woman whose fear of sexual harassment leads her to sexually harass a passerby. Crying out for a twist is a more conventional scene in which one couple talks another out of breaking up, when the first had inspired the second to endure each other.

The songs fare the best. Aping construction workers, the male contingent dances up a macho hymn to the glories of womanhood. And there's no disputing the sincerity of the finale, in which illegal aliens slam the INS for deporting anyone who breathes wrong. --Lawrence Bommer

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