Review: Radio Golf (Raven Theatre)

        
     

Wilson’s thought-provoking drama has a whole new relevancy in 2011

     
     

Warren Levon, Demetria Thomas, Michael Pogue in Raven Theatre's 'Radio Golf'. Photo by Dean LaPrairie.

  
Raven Theatre presents
  
Radio Golf
  
Written by August Wilson 
Directed by
Aaron Todd Douglas
at
Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark Street (map)
through April 9 |  tickets: $30  |  more info 

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

It’s only been six years since Radio Golf, the tenth and final work in Pulitzer Prize winning playwright August Wilson’s “Pittsburg Cycle, premiered at Yale Rep.

A lot has happened in six years.

In that time, certain middle-upper-class white signifiers prominently featured in this 1990’s-based drama have taken a dip from grace. Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, lucrative condo investments and, well, Tiger Woods…let’s just say they aren’t what they used to be. “Unemployment” has knocked out “affluenza” as the country’s go-to economic buzz-word, Chicago just watched a mayoral campaign season with similar Harold Washington-era fears about equal race representation and, oh yeah, America elected its first non-white president.

Michael Pogue, Demetria Thomas in a scene from Raven Theatre's 'Radio Golf' by August Wilson. Photo by Dean LaPrairie.Yesterday, this show about a wealthy young black man running for mayor of Pittsburg was contemporary. Today it’s a period-piece, a quality that only adds to its resounding ideas.

The timing of director Aaron Todd Douglas’ production feels perfect. With just enough distance and room for perspective, we get to see the protagonists’ superficial goals and misplaced trusts with an unwavering knowledge of the consequences—something Wilson, who died in 2005, never got the chance to witness for himself. I wonder if he knew he was creating a prescient work of theatre.

As candidate Wilks, Michael Pogue conveys idealism and an eagerness to please his community, listening to its grievances and welcoming citizens into his private office, a space traditionally reserved for the shady deals that are kept far away from picture-windowed PR campaign centers. Time goes on and compromises need to be made, such as the necessity to petition a neighborhood for blight status and the unethical demolishing of a delinquent taxpayer’s house. A little more arc in Pogue’s demeanor would be compelling. But like the rest of this cast, Pogue finds the rhythm in Wilson’s dialogue most of the time (the poetic allegories are clear and strong), steam-rolling it a bit here and there.

David Adams is the most consistent and entertaining of the bunch. Patient and methodical as the stubborn but righteous owner of the dilapidated property at 1839 Wylie Ave.—a brick house that stands in Wilks’ way between continued suburban poverty and a massive, gentrifying real estate complex—Adams carries the weary but proud burden of a man who values what’s right. Blue collar local Sterling Johnson (Antoine Pierre Whitfield) does likewise. Both actors nail Radio Golf’s comedy with complementing styles: Adams understated and Whitfield abrasive.

It makes me wonder about 2012. 15 years after this story takes place, how much of “the game” will be the same, and who gets to play?

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Warren Levon, Michael Pogue, and David Adams in Raven Theatre's 'Radio Golf' by August Wilson. Photo by Dean LaPrairie.

Radio Golf continues through April 9th, with performances Thurs. through Sat. 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $30, and are available by calling 773-338-2177, or online at RavenTheatre.com.

 

 
 

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Review: Ghosts of Atwood (MPAACT)

     
     

Exorcising the past without reconciliation

 

  
     

  
MPAACT presents
  
Ghosts of Atwood
  
Written by Shepsu Aahku
Directed by
Andrea J. Dymond
at
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through Feb 27  |  tickets: $21-$23  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

Ghosts of Atwood has a fascinating and voyeuristic premise – a chance to see behind the walls of a midwestern boys military school. The fascination comes from the fact that the narrator is a still-traumatized Black man looking back thirty or so years. He comes from a past of being only one of the few allowed in the White world. It was supposed to be a privilege and an honor to assimilate and pave the way for others to follow.

As suspected, the grass is not green in the verdant woods of Wisconsin for toy soldier Quinn. MPAACT playwright-in-residence Shepsu Aahku is the author of Ghosts of Atwood.  His work is a memoir of his own time in military school back in the 1970’s and, according to Aahku, sometimes memory cannot be trusted. It turns out that this is a rationalization fed to impressionable children to mask the horrors inflicted upon them. What is the truth? Who is your brother when it hits the fan?

Quinn is dropped off at Atwood while his still loving mother gets her life in order. He comes from a supportive family that wants him to have a good life, the kind of life advertised in the Sunday supplement magazine.

Quinn is brutally hazed by cadet Moose and his posse on his first day at Atwood. Zack Shornick is brilliant as the abusive and abandoned Moose. He blends fear, anger, and atavism in an explosive performance.

Equally brilliant is Corey Spruill as cadet Whitehead – the only other black kid at Atwood. Spruill quiet performance simmers and then boils over in a seething climax that breaks the heart from the shame of recognition. Whitehead has been at Atwood for seven years and doesn’t classify himself as anything other than a soldier. The moment that he allows vulnerability, the shell breaks completely.

Aahku’s structure for  Ghosts of Atwood is pretty straightforward. But in an effort to distinguish this work from similar stories like “Lord of the Flies” or “Taps”, he adds an esoteric quality to the ‘ghosts’. Imaging horrific abuse as a monster under the bed drives the fact that the cadets are really children. 

   

The ghost causes one child, Bobby, to be a chronic bed wetter at the mercy of Moose and the other boys. Jack Miggins is heartbreaking as Bobby, who should be playing baseball but is Moose’s unfortunate ‘bitch’. His breakdown recalls the demise of Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

The grownups in Ghosts of Atwood are stock military characters. The role of Hammer (Dan Loftus) is a disciplinarian handing out demerits for dirty dress whites and a paddling for unruly behavior. Loftus projects a martial image of paternal firmness. Niall McGinty plays the jolly wilderness guide Major Taggert. His folksy Mayberry demeanor adds a jolt to his character being revealed as a malevolent force.

Wardell Julius Clark plays the lead role of cadet Quinn. His character is seen as a teenager and then as an adult decades later still haunted by Atwood. Clark’s performance comes off as strangely tight and stiff even in light of his character’s memories. It’s given that Quinn is well spoken and in a military milieu but it doesn’t jibe with the more naturalistic method of the rest of the cast.

Actors James Holbrook and Jack Moore give excellent performances as boys who’ have molded into military life. Mr. Moore is chilling and funny as the perfect Drill Captain whose uniform is full of braids and medals. Mr. Holbrook also fits the military image as well. His character Waddelow is the cadet who gets to log in the demerits and inflict abuse unpunished for the most part. He has mastered the smug sneer and is physically menacing, which is perfect for the role.

I would be remiss to not mention the glorious Trinity P. Murdock as Nesta the Rastafarian griot/singer. He is a sort of Greek Chorus underscoring the present day Quinn’s post- traumatic memories and the means by which Whitehead coped with Atwood in the past. Whitehead believes in the Rastafarian idea of justice and resistance through Jah and sacramental spliffs. It is lost on naïve Quinn but remains a constant song in his adult memory through Nesta.

Ghosts of Atwood is designed well. The imaging of the ghost as an undulating black mist gives one the chills and provides for an appropriate visual metaphor of a child’s nightmare memories. The sparse dormitory and wood footlockers give an authentic old boarding school feel to the set.

I give kudos to the cast and Drill Team Choreographer Demetria Thomas for precision worthy of competition. Also, a special mention is given to Kevin Douglas for excellent fight choreography. These scenes are brutal and have to be precise and authentic to have the intended impact.

This is a production that should be on your list of shows to see this month. Ghosts of Atwood is a chilling and authentic exploration of the truth that society is not willing to remember. With resident director Andrea J. Dymond doing an exemplary job shaping and pacing the show,  Ghosts is a powerful indictment of what authority is willing to ignore or deny under the guise of ivy-covered utopias at the expense of the future.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Ghost of Atwood runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 3:00pm until February 27th. The Greenhouse Theatre Center is located 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue. Call 773-404-7336 for box office information or check out the website www.mpaact.org

   
  

REVIEW: Defamation (Canamac Productions)

   
   

Strong intentions elevate predictable stereotypes

 

 

left to right are Rob Riley, AEA (as Judge Barnes), Bernie Beck, AEA (as defendant Arthur Golden), Shariba Rivers (as the defendant’s lawyer Ms. Allen), Steven Pringle (as the plaintiff’s lawyer Mr. Lawton), and Jacquie Coleman (as plaintiff Regina Wade), in Todd Logan’s “Defamation,” a Canamac Productions world premiere courtroom drama in a limited run at three Evanston, Illinois, houses of worship, directed by Richard Shavzin.  In the scene pictured defendant Golden is on the witness stand being questioned by his attorney, Ms. Allen.

Who steals my purse steals trash; ‘tis something, nothing;
Twas mine, ‘tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

            –Iago, Othello Act 3, scene 3, 155-161

 

   
Canamac Productions presents
    
Defamation
   
Written by Todd Logan
Directed by
Richard Shavzin
at
various church locations, Evanston
through November 7  | 
tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Todd Logan designed his world premiere play, Defamation, to be staged at various church locations in Evanston–the better to provoke conversation about where we are about race and class today. Richard Shavzin directs this courtroom drama in which the Chicago area forms the template for all relations between its characters.

Regina Wade (Jacquie Coleman) is a tough African-American businesswoman, raised in Lawndale, preferring to reside in Bronzeville, who sues prominent realtor Arthur Golden (Bernard Beck), a wealthy resident of Winnetka, for the downfall of her business, due to his public accusations that she had stolen his heirloom watch. Both parties, through their lawyers, never deviate from their cross-accusations of each other. The audience must vote after closing arguments on who has made their case.

left to right are Shariba Rivers (as the defendant’s lawyer Ms. Allen), and plaintiff Jacquie Coleman (as plaintiff Regina Wade), in Todd Logan’s “Defamation,” a Canamac Productions world premiere courtroom drama in a limited run at three Evanston, Illinois, houses of worship, directed by Richard Shavzin. But does the audience vote on the case or on the racial dynamic put so clearly before them? It’s difficult to say, since Logan’s text gives them plenty of room for doubt. Ms. Wade might have lost her business because Golden slandered her among mutual clients. Or she might have lost her business due to another fiercely competitive company that undersold her products and services. Golden may have lost or misplaced his watch or it perhaps it has been stolen by someone else, but his unfamiliarity with a black woman in his own environment may have led him to think of her as the primary suspect. Logan allows ambiguity to rule. Instead of being a courtroom drama that unravels mystery and establishes the truth, the audience is left with their own conjectures over who did what and why.

As a source for discussion, the play is solid and enjoyable. It’s cast is strong, the acting personable, the direction simple and to the point. If all who show up are just the post-Obama crowd, who think that African Americans now have nothing left to complain about, then Defamation makes for good social tonic.

However, as drama, Defamation relies excessively on stereotype. Complete with a crotchety old judge, showboating lawyers, and a rich realtor more Jewish than Jesus, Defamation’s characters emerge direct from central casting. The production hangs on just as fiercely to that relatively new American stereotype, the Strong Black Woman.

left to right are Jacquie Coleman (as plaintiff Regina Wade), giving direct testimony to Steven Pringle (as the plaintiff’s lawyer Mr. Lawton), in Todd Logan’s “Defamation,” a Canamac Productions world premiere courtroom drama in a limited run at three Evanston, Illinois, houses of worship, directed by Richard Shavzin. In fact, one could re-name this play “The Battle of the Strong Black Women,” since the racial game played in the court pits Golden’s lawyer Ms. Allen (Shariba Rivers) and lawyer-witness Lorraine Jordan (Demetria Thomas) against Ms. Wades’ claims to innocence. Not that I don’t enjoy watching strong black women duke it out with each other, and these three actresses definitely give good dramatic conflict, but theirs is a battle that gives more heat than light.

Furthermore, it’s a game in which no one is fooled. Everyone knows Mr. Golden has hired a black woman as his lawyer to defeat any allegation of racism or sexism. Everyone knows Ms. Wade’s white lawyer, Mr. Lawton (Steven Pringle), has probably been hired for a similar reason. Racism has become all too predictable in American culture; likewise, defenses against racism emerge predictably. Sadly, that level of stale predictability dooms Defamation to being an interesting exercise, but not something that awakens and enlightens its audience—either to a more nuanced racial dynamic today or to a way out of our present racial malaise.

   
Rating: ★★½   
   
   

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