‘Father Comes Home From the Wars’ and an Absent Freedom

This piece was co-written by Chicago actor/director Wardell Julius Clark and Regina Victor.

Father Comes Home From The Wars opened at the Goodman Theatre in what can only be categorized as a seismic explosion of a production, excellent on all fronts.

Under the persuasively specific direction of Niegel Smith, Suzan-Lori Parks’ three-part black civil war saga spilled over the audience like the heightened spirits of our ancestors that loom at our backs to remind us of the past and question our future. It is inspired undoubtedly by the great Greek dramas of the past, with character names like Homer (who is given a fiery portrayal by Jaime Lincoln Smith), Oddsee (Odyssey Dog) and Penny (Penelope).

The central question of the three part play is What is Freedom? Who can attain it? And is Freedom even enough after the poison of white supremacy and systemic oppression, have guided, controlled, and infiltrated every area of our lives? Parks struggles with the predicament of the colonized mind by setting this epic during the Civil War. The main character Hero, aptly named for his journey, wants to escape slavery and sees an opportunity to do so by accompanying his master to war. The problem is, he’d be fighting for the Confederacy. Hero’s moral dilemma launches the audience on a journey of self-reflection and invites us to ponder who and what we’d sacrifice for our own freedom.  Hero, played by Kamal Angelo Bolden, gives what can only be called a Tour de force performance as he decides whether or not to follow his Boss Master the colonel into the Confederate Army, having been promised his freedom in return.

“The Chorus of Less Than Desirable Slaves,” on the plantation who try to help Hero make his choice are Leader (Jacqueline Williams), the oldest old man (Ernest Perry, Jr.), Second, (Sydney Charles), Third (Ron Conner), and Fourth (Michael Pogue). Each ensemble member deserves to be listed for their spectacular performance and their part in setting up the world and style of the play we are about to see. Linda Cho’s elegant costuming is simple yet instructive as patterns literally tell us who onstage is cut from which cloth. The play opens with Leader giving Second a hilariously long tirade demonstrating the breath control of a classically skilled actor and letting us know just how vast the journey is that we’re going to embark upon. Sydney Charles presents male as Second, and interesting directorial choice that establishes her as a versatile performer and Chicago staple. 

In part 1, “The Measure of a Man” we are made aware that Hero has committed a grevious betrayal, and in a staging that is totally unique to black greek culture and african roots, the chorus began stepping choreography that shows the extent of the betrayal. Each person has their own rhythm, fitting into a whole, from which Hero is painfully excluded.  It is one of several glimpses we get throughout the night, that this production is told through our unique black lens and resonates for us deeply and personally. It is the direction of Niegel Smith that gives this play its vulnerability and its dignity. Through a use of gesture he lets us see the unspoken language that we imagine slaves may have had as they navigated a world where they could not always speak their mind. This language of gesture reappears through a more starkly structured Greek chorus of runaway slaves consisting of Tyrone Phillips, Nicole Michelle Haskins, and Bernard Gilbert. Haskins and Phillips are stars to watch that have been seen all over Chicago, and Gilbert recently had a formidable turn in Northlight Theatre’s Skeleton Crew. Honorable mention also goes to BrittneyLove Smith’s hilarious and heartwarming portrayal of Odyssey Dog, her specific physical choices and Cho’s costuming indicate a dog without taking away the dignity of the actor.

It is rare that we see a production with so many fine Black actors of all ages.  There is one choice to have a Black character portrayed by a white man which, though it’s requested by the playwright, ultimately made that piece of the narrative disingenuous for this writer (Regina Victor). Otherwise, the casting of this production creates hope for the future of Black artists in Chicago, and acknowledges the legacy of fine work that has been done before we were even a thought.  This production of Father Comes Home From the Wars is an ambitious and stunning piece of our legacy, and you should not miss it.

Photos by Liz Lauren
Director – Niegel Smith
Playwright – Suzan-Lori Parks
Hero – Kamal Angelo Bolden
Colonel – William Dick
Penny – Aimé Donna Kelly
Homer – Jaime Lincoln Smith
Narrator / Musician – Melody Angel
Second – Sydney Charles
Third – Ronald L. Conner
Runaway – James Bernard Gilbert II
Runaway – Nicole Michelle Haskins
Runaway – Tyrone Phillips
Ernest Perry Jr. – The Oldest Old Man
Fourth – Michael Aaron Pogue
Odyssey Dog – BrittneyLove Smith
Smith – Demetrios Troy
Leader – Jacqueline Williams

BIAS ALERT: We Black, so we know alladem.

 

Nostalgia Consumes in a Fiery ‘Buried Child’

“I thought I was dying but I  just lost my voice.” – Tilden, Sam Shepard’s Buried Child.

This line perfectly describes the devastating loneliness that reverberates throughout Sam Shephard’s Buried Child, currently playing at Writers Theatre. The large house is empty at top of show except for the elderly Dodge (Larry Yando) who is coughing and watching TV all alone as rain falls outside. Dodge looks up at the roof to listen to the rain, which is wonderful because there is no roof in the living room of Jack Magaw’s set. In fact, the entire front of the home is excavated like an ancient archaeological site, preserved so we can see the relics inside. Adding to this jagged, exposed feeling is a massive crack that runs through the middle of the floor. Largely ignored by the family that resides in the house, I could not help but notice that the two outsiders in the play either noticed or tripped over the crack. Continue reading “Nostalgia Consumes in a Fiery ‘Buried Child’”

Steppenwolf Fellows Present: Crafting a Cohort

Steppenwolf’s Fellowship Cohort Presents: Crafting a Cohort
Monday, April 30 at 7pm.

Free Community Event Explores the Question, “How do we, as POC and queer artists create space for ourselves in institutions where we are often ‘the only one’?”

CHICAGO (April 24, 2018) –Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s 2017/18 Multicultural Fellows are proud to present Crafting a Cohort, a free event that aims to unite people of color and members of the queer community (POC/Queer Folx) in various levels of theatre career tracks by providing a space for discussion and connection. This event is curated by the 2017/18 Steppenwolf Multicultural Fellows cohort. The Steppenwolf Professional Leadership Program Fellowship is for early-career people of color working in various theatre disciplines and provides paid professional development opportunities both in and out of Steppenwolf Theatre. Jackie Taylor, Executive Artistic Director of Black Ensemble Theatre, will deliver the keynote address. This event takes place on Monday, April 30th from 7-9pm at the Merle Reskin Garage (1624 N. Halsted St.). Admission is free and snacks and drinks will be provided. RSVP by clicking here. Continue reading “Steppenwolf Fellows Present: Crafting a Cohort”

White Critics: Please Stop Using the N-Word

What is wrong with white critics? I really want to know. Have you all lost your mind?? When critic Katy Walsh took a loss and set a dignified example for why the n-word is hurtful, apologized, and extricated herself from criticism to learn, were you listening?

In the space of a singular calendar year, we have had two white Chicago critics use the n-word in a review. Yesterday Justin Hayford put this sentence in a review of Court Theatre’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and legitimately thought it was a good idea: “At worst, it will leave him with a cracked skull, tormented children, and a wife who’ll come to believe he’s nothing but a n*gger.” (This is censored, the uncensored photo is below.) Now, I don’t know if Hayford wanted to get into a fight when he published this review, but I am a non-violent person and when I first read this sentence I was ready to throw hands. I immediately talked to some artists working on the play to get their thoughts. Continue reading “White Critics: Please Stop Using the N-Word”

‘We’re Gonna Be Okay’ Makes Sense of Crisis

Note: The pronouns of the characters were used for this review, they do not necessarily reflect the pronouns of the artists.

We’re Gonna Be Okay at American Theater Company by Basil Kreimendahl directed by Will Davis perfectly captures what it feels like to be living in the midst of a crisis. In our current political climate, no matter which side of the debate you find yourself on, there is an undeniable sense of panic as we try to hold on to a life that feels like it’s trying to run away from us. America, a land of unlimited possibility, and paralyzing fear. In Will Davis’ production, that fear is palpable, but it is also accompanied by laughter, love, and hope. Continue reading “‘We’re Gonna Be Okay’ Makes Sense of Crisis”

Key Reviews: ‘In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play’

The Key: Young Critics Mentorship Program brings students to various productions around Chicago, teaching them about arts criticism as they try their hand at writing reviews. The opinions of the students are their own; we workshop the pieces in seminar every other week, and then they edit their reviews before publication. These reviews from our Fall session are edited by Oliver Sava and Regina Victor

Danielle Chmielewski

The fact that somehow the existence of female sexuality is still up for debate is almost impressive in how narrow-minded it is. Not enough has been sad about the epidemic of “hysteria” in the 1800’s. The fact that a legitimate medical diagnosis was given to women who were experiencing the wide spectrum of basic human emotion and no longer living up to men’s expectations is nearly laughable. And yet, as off the wall as it sounds, it should only come as a shock to someone who hasn’t picked up a newspaper in the past month. Continue reading “Key Reviews: ‘In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play’”

Rescripted Recognized: 2017 in Review

This has been an incredible year for the team at Rescripted. As we embark on 2018, we’d like to take some time to revisit not only some theatre highlights of the year, but accomplishments we have made as an organization in our first six months! The plays mentioned below are honored as Rescripted Recognized, productions that were memorable for their cultural standouts, for their artistic achievements, for their strong performances, and in some cases even for their controversies. 

Continue reading “Rescripted Recognized: 2017 in Review”

‘Lizzie’ Rocks Out at Firebrand: Key Reviews

The Key: Young Critics Mentorship Program brings students to various productions around Chicago, teaching them about arts criticism as they try their hand at writing reviews. The opinions of the students are their own; we workshop the pieces in seminar every other week, and then they edit their reviews before publication. These reviews from our Fall session are edited by Oliver Sava and Regina Victor. 

Danielle Chmielewski

I loved this show. To be absolutely honest I am not sure if I can provide a measured and calculated analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of Firebrand’s debut musical because the only thing that really comes to mind is that totally rocked. Continue reading “‘Lizzie’ Rocks Out at Firebrand: Key Reviews”

Key Reviews: Multimedia Edition

The ability to write about different art forms is essential to making a living as an arts critic, so we wanted to encourage our students to write about whatever non-theatre art caught their interest. The following are reviews of Murder on the Orient Express, The Daily, and My Life As a Zucchini. The viewpoints of the authors are entirely their own. Edited by Oliver Sava and Regina Victor.  Continue reading “Key Reviews: Multimedia Edition”

Northlight Theatre’s Artistic Director Statement on ‘Book of Will’

The following is a response and public statement from Artistic Director of Northlight Theatre, BJ Jones. There have been concerns shared from the artistic community on the composition of the cast, see local casting director Lavina Jadhwani’s editorial here. Rescripted encourages artists to respond to discussion generated by our website, in the hopes of facilitating a more open dialogue between institutions and artists. As noted below, the conversation will continue with a panel in late January co-hosted by Jessica Thebus and Aaron Todd Douglas. Continue reading “Northlight Theatre’s Artistic Director Statement on ‘Book of Will’”