REVIEW: Tad in the 5th City (MPAACT)

A burning reminder of days past

 

  
MPAACT presents
 
Tad in the 5th City
 
Directed and adapted by Carla Stillwell
Based on poetry by
Orron Kenyatta
at
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through June 13th  tickets: $23  |  more info

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I was eight years old when the West Side of Chicago went up in flames. My grandparents lived there and I visited them often. After the death of Dr. King and the riots, life changed for Black America and every pundit was asking why. Why would they burn their own neighborhoods? Why are they so angry? MPAACT Theatre presents life from the ashes of the riots with Tad in 5th City. It is a raw and painful look at how poverty, drugs, and the accompanying violence became systemic in Black families.

Tad in 5th City is adapted from the poetry of Orron Kenyatta by Carla Stillwell. Ms. Stillwell also directed this world premiere. The play takes us to ten years after the riots in the roach-infested apartment of the Brown family. Mama drinks from a liquor bottle like it’s water. Pappa Daddy is strung out on heroin. Older son James is feeling the pull of burgeoning thug life. Young Tad is an innocent born after the apocalypse on 29 blocks of Chicago. Life is happening to the Browns and they are struggling against an impossible tide of de facto segregation and new families formed by gangs.

Ms. Stillwell’s adaptation of Kenyatta’s poetry is fluid, retaining the angst of poet forebears such as Gil Scott Heron and The Last Poets. Life in the ghetto was not necessarily an episode of “Good Times” with stereotypically ‘strong Black women’ and errant Black men. The characters are represented realistically and with respect for the lives they chose no matter the path.

The griot of 5th City is the newspaper stand owner-Uncle Brotha. The magnificent Andre Teamer plays Uncle Brotha with the desperation and hope of a man watching his neighborhood swirl down the sewer. He knows that some people will be lost and he gives mentoring encouragement to those who can be saved. The entire neighborhood passes by his newsstand and he is the one positive constant in Tad’s life. Teamer’s body language seems weighted down and, indeed, his character carries a generation of burden. The anguish and tears that flow in the final scenes feel authentic in expressing loss, anger, and of having to speak the truth.

Sidney Miller plays the role of Mama. I have to say that it was a relief to see a Black female character as vulnerable instead of stoic and trembling in dignity all of the time. Ms. Miller’s Mama is a profane and wounded character. She sips from the liquor bottle as an anesthetic. Her person is pulled together one moment and disheveled the next. Yes, Mama is going it alone but there is scant pride or reward for her efforts.

Eddie Jordan III plays the role of Pappa Daddy, taking the difficult task of making an absentee addict father sympathetic. Pappa steals to hock items for the rent and to fill his veins with relief. He gets no respect at home and what love there was has long since left their marriage. Jordan powerfully projects the shame and self- loathing of addiction. This character is the proverbial invisible man until the police choose to see him. Drugs have obscured his pride and muted his drive to make any efforts at being the man of the house.

David Goodloe is new to America and the Chicago stage. His portrayal of James is like an exposed nerve. The usual portrayal is that young men want the easy life and money of drug dealing but the truth is often anything but easy. James’ family provides no role models. There is no dignity or power in the substandard education he is forced to endure. He chooses the most accessible route and gets a convoluted ‘brotherhood’ and status in peddling drugs.

Destin L. Teamer plays the central role of Tad. Young Destin Teamer is the son of Andre Teamer (Uncle Brotha), and this is his theatrical debut. What a debut it is! Destin is an adorable and handsome young man in the 5th grade and yet he turns in a performance of a seasoned veteran. His Tad is no adorable moppet watching the world in innocent wonder – his portrayal is savvy and heart breaking. Tad is a boy who likes to read the newspaper and draw comics, a huge deal in a neighborhood scarred by riots and decay. The character of Mama is profane in her version of love, telling him to ‘get his ass home by four’ and ‘get your ass to school’. Destin Teamer’s portrayal is unflinching and letter perfect. I give kudos on the possible beginnings of an acting dynasty.

Rounding out the cast are Sati Word and Shayla A. Jarvis. Mr. Word does triple duty as a drug dealer, a vicious pimp, and a hilarious preacher. My grandmother would refer to this Reverend as a ‘jacklegged’ preacher. Mr. Word spouts Biblical passages and platitudes at Uncle Brotha trying to bring him to his church. It is spot on how he pronounces God with three syllables. Mr. Word’s Reverend and Mr. Teamer’s Uncle Brotha have a magnificent sparring on the interpretation of the Bible, in particularly the Gospel of Matthew and Hebrews. They verbally circle each other in front of Tad in a climatic confrontation that sizzles with vitriol and anger. Mr. Word’s pimp starts out with the comic undertones of a 70’s television character. The tone darkens considerably when he calls the prostitute Miss Lady “bitch”.

Miss Lady is played by Shayla A. Jarvis. It is a searing performance and highlights the vulnerability in what has been perceived as a tough woman’s game. Ms. Jarvis tempers the comic possibilities of Miss Lady with her tenderness toward Tad and her respect for Uncle Brotha. Her character becomes the most sympathetic because she is not written as a drug addict. She works for the Pimp out of a need for love, protection, and approval. Hers is a story that has been analyzed for sociology studies and mined for fraternity pimps-and-ho’s parties, but Ms. Jarvis beautifully humanizes a woman on the lowest rung of a lower society.

Tad in 5th City tells a story that is unique to Chicago. Playwright Stillwell has lifted the cover off of a forgotten story. The city can tear down and gentrify the edifices in an attempt to obscure history but the wounds and vestiges are systemic. This story is a step toward confronting the past and healing it. Indeed the revolution will not be televised – the revolution will be live (with respect to G.S. Heron). MPAACT has produced yet another honest and powerhouse addition to the Chicago theatre scene. Tad In 5th City is not to be missed for those who love theatre and who love Chicago.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
 

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This is not a play for young children as there is incendiary language, violence, drug use, and frank sexuality.

The play runs Thursdays through Sundays from May 13th till June 13th at The Greenhouse Theatre Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Box Office 773-404-7336 or www.mpaact.org

 

 

       
     

REVIEW: First Words (MPAACT Theatre)

Illuminating "First Words"

 

Adian with blocks Distorted

MPAACT  presents:

First Words

 

by Aaron Carter
directed by Chuck Smith
through February 28th (more info)

Review by K.D. Hopkins

It may be incomprehensible for some to understand a parent’s pain and terror upon learning that something is not quite right with their child. It has been my experience in the African American community that disabilities were an insular subject. It was dealt with within the family and with the support of a tight knit neighborhood. There were no special schools or classes. It was often considered up to ‘the Lord’s will’ how someone with a disability coped in the world. MPAACT productions First Words is a lovingly crafted and honest look at autism and how a family dissolves under the pressures of reality and self-delusion.

Family Paul and Barbara are played as a normal and loving couple that has managed to coexist with their differences and the challenge of their autistic son Aiden. Paul carries religious wounds from a strict father and lives in fear of blasphemy lest he be punished. Andre Teamer plays the character of Paul. He projects a beautiful tension and frailty in his role as the father. Tina Marie Wright is a wonderful counterpoint as Barbara who is breaking under the strain of Aiden’s increasingly violent outbursts and no seeming way to get through to her son. Her performance is finely nuanced and subtle. Scott Baity Jr. plays the troubled and sometimes menacing Aiden with a coiled ferocity that was shocking and projected the helplessness of the autistic world.

The role of Diane, the facilitated communications expert, is played by Lauren Malara. Barbara’s character expects her to be an Ivy League White girl and is surprised when it is an Ivy League Black girl who walks in the door. Ms. Malara projects the epitome of fresh-faced enthusiasm. The character of Diane is an advocate of research and empirical evidence  – until she sees the flaws in her methods.

Chuck Smith, whose rendition of James Baldwin’s “Amen Corner” at the Goodman was brilliant, directs this play. It is everyday life in the African American community that has been for the most part remanded to literary interpretation. These are people that I have known and not a glossy film retelling for palatability’s sake. The direction is flowing and I loved the added dimension of the characters projected behind them as they spoke. It underscored what seems to be in an autistic person’s mind: so much stimuli and in so many forms that it cannot be sorted out to the point where a touch can be the breaking point.

The set dressing seems to have been taken from a home in Morgan or Maple Park on the south side of Chicago. The family pictures in color and sepia tone were a wonderful touch as was the glowing white Bible on its own shelf. Mr. Teamer is the props master for this production and I presume that his character of Paul fed into the prop selection.

Adian w light writer cropped Aaron Carter, the playwright for First Words, has an interesting lineage of Baptist preacher and Vaudeville according to his biography notes. He has taken the best of both and crafted a fine play. There is the high dudgeon of fiery Baptist preaching and the slight of hand in Vaudeville without falling into the grotesque. The most compelling scenes are between Ms. Wright and Mr. Baity. Barbara is driven to break the silence and she has nightmares in which Aiden speaks. It becomes the adage of be careful of what you ask for-surely you will get it.

There are no easy answers or resolution to the controversy of facilitated communication for autistic persons in First Words. It is a searing presentation of what happens to a family when faith is divided and trust is broken in pursuit of answers. It is about the perception of what the parental bond means to a God-fearing father and a self-professed heathen mother. The answers are locked inside Aiden’s head as well as his parent’s dreams. The final moment of the play drives the ‘not knowing’ home with one subtle gesture. This production is highly recommended

 

Rating: ★★★★

 

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First Words” runs Thursdays through Sundays January 28th through February 28th at The Greenhouse Theatre Center. 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue. The Box Office number is 773-404-7336. Parents take note: this play contains adult language and scenes of violence.

Review – Gore Vidal’s "Weekend"

Weekend

Reviewed by Jackie Ingram

The Chicago premiere of Gore Vidal’s Weekend, directed by Damon Kiely, is pure genius. The 1968 presidential campaign is the setting for this funny, yet politically relevant play. The play introduces us to Republican Senator MacGruder on the weekend he is to announce his candidacy for president, when his son arrives with an announcement of his own.

Weekend_image The strange twists the characters present are funny, politically savvy, and surprisingly in tune with today’s political point of view. The entire ensemble shows off their comedic timing, which I found to be vivacious and fun to watch. All the characters are excellent, my favorite being the funny Janet Ulrich Brooks, a Timeline Company member, as Mrs. Andrews. Her witty words and body language were amazing. I also enjoyed Penny Slusher as Estelle MacGruder – calm, reserved, and powerful under stress. Great stage presence. The rest of the cast includes Mica Cole (Louise Hampton), Ian Paul Custer (Norris Blotner), TimeLine Associate Artist Terry Hamilton (Senator MacGruder), TimeLine Company Member Juliet Hart (Miss Wilson), Joslyn Jones (Mrs. Hampton), Thomas Edson McElroy (Senator Andrews), Sean Nix (Roger), Joe Sherman (Beany MacGruder) and André Teamer (Dr. Hampton).

Amazingly, Weekend shows off a political point of view that, forty years later, still echoes the current issues of today.

Damon Kiely did an excellent job of directing this great cast. Mr. Kiely gave the audience a great show and disappointment will not be on the map.

So come out for a treat of political banter and laughter for two hours and ten minutes of pure entertainment. Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to a politically fun filled show at the Timeline Theatre Company at 615 W. Wellington in Chicago.

Rating: «««