Review: The Last Saint on Sugar Hill (MPAACT)

     
     

A new modern tragedy classic is born

  
  

Chicago's award-winning theatre company MPAACT presents "The Last Saint on Sugar Hill" by Keith Josef Adkins.

  
MPAACT presents
  
  
The Last Saint on Sugar Hill
   
Written by Keith Josef Adkins
Directed by Carla Stillwell
at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through June 12th  |  tickets: $23  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

It is a privilege to see new theater works from the outset. MPAACT’s production of The Last Saint on Sugar Hill is one of those rare privileged moments in time. This is destined to be a classic written by Keith Josef Adkins and directed by Carla Stillwell – Resident Director of MPAACT. Adkins opens the hot button issue of gentrification and those who profit from it for examination of motives and consequences.

The Pedigrew family lives a comfortable life in what remains of hardscrabble Harlem. The residence of former President Clinton, gourmet coffee, and wine shops threaten to change the landscape and remove the people who know no other home.

In a stunningly visceral performance, journeyman actor Trinity Murdock potrays the character of Napoleon Pedigrew, who presides over the last of the Harlem buildings gone to seed. I have seen Murdock in several roles on Chicago stages and he can be depended upon to play the neighborhood good guy or singing griot.

Chicago's award-winning theatre company MPAACT presents "The Last Saint on Sugar Hill" by Keith Josef Adkins. Chicago's award-winning theatre company MPAACT presents "The Last Saint on Sugar Hill" by Keith Josef Adkins. The role of Napoleon Pedigrew is rooted in ancient traditional tragedy and 20th Century social unrest. Playwright Adkins has carefully crafted a non-stereotypical role in Napoleon. I say that because it is an unflinching and honest look at what has been unspoken on the mainstream stage. Mr. Murdock presents a sociopath whose interests and wealth are literally ripped from the bodies and souls of those who are unfortunate enough to inhabit his buildings or contain his DNA.

The language is street raw and dismissive of political or societal correctness. There is no "N" word- it is nigger said with ferocity. At first, the rap that flows from Napoleon is pithy and comedic in the folksy style of that favorite or feared drunk relative. It is funny in the style of Richard Pryor performing for a Black audience. As the play barrels forward like a bullet, Napoleon Pedigrew’s words take on a frightening tilt. Here is a man who felt the spike of poverty and the chokehold of the underclass so keenly that his conscience snapped. Trinity Murdock plays this character laid bare and full of angry hubris. Napoleon brags of his knowledge from snippets of PBS to which he donates to give him the cache of current education. It is a bravura performance.

Napoleon Pedigrew’s sons are the vehicles for his parasitic real estate empire and the victims of his stranglehold on their memories. Mateo Smith plays the role of eldest son Dexter Pedigrew. Dexter was a promising med student who has been drawn into his father’s world of cracking heads for rent and unscrupulous methods to hide cheap or dangerous repairs. Mr. Smith gives a nuanced and heartbreaking performance as a man who wants to please his father and somehow be of service to the neighborhood that is crumbling under his feet. Napoleon tells Dexter that he is a thug and it would be a waste of his talent to be a doctor.

Dexter’s childhood holds a traumatic event that pressed his humanity to the side at his father’s behest. Napoleon tells his son, "Thinking is for thinkers and you are a thug down to the bone." He pounds the thought into Dexter’s head that boxing is the greatest form of capitalism and one of the fringe benefits of his daddy’s sperm. Smith subtly recoils at each of the jabs from the father character. Each jolt builds in a slow and controlled simmer that is on an equally frightening steady boil at the climax of the play.

The youngest son Z is played by David Goodloe. At first Z seems to play into his father’s world of debauchery. He reduces women to asses, thighs, and panties. Mr. Goodloe is at first funny as the tail-chasing stud playing with his daddy’s money. His father has him under the control of the promise of being comfortable no matter what happens in the neighborhood. Z gleefully hits happy hour at the new fancy cigar bar to see how much sex he can rack up. It’s sad to know that his youth has been wasted on violence and sex as an education. Napoleon encourages the hedonism in misplaced elevation of how he can rule the world with money.

Goodloe’s performance evolves into a man discontented with what his life has become. His realization comes as a sudden jolt after the father is fully revealed as a monster. Goodloe fleshes out the Pedigrew dysfunction by playing an unwitting victim who was never taught to be a fully evolved and involved man. The cast is rounded out by Terry Francois and Sati Word in perfectly crafted motif roles that fill in the story. Mr. Francois plays a homeless man who becomes the living conscience for Dexter. It is a beautiful performance that never becomes maudlin. Sati Word is another MPAACT ensemble regular that I last saw in the highly-recommended Tad in the 5th City (my review). He plays medical resident Joseph who reminds Dexter of his potential and responsibility to himself and his community. He represents another facet of Dexter’s conscience. Mr. Word is an engaging presence that I would love to see in a showcased role.

It should be noted that opening night was full of local actors and friends of the cast. I found it unsettling that they kept laughing long after it became obvious that Napoleon Pedigrew believed all of his egotistical folksy ravings. He meant that he would cut the heads off of his children if it would get him what he wanted. I felt great sorrow when Napoleon stated," America is trying to kill us Black men. We are an endangered species scrambling for our own crumbs. The only way to stop the watchful eye of The Man is to sit on a throne of cash!" Like any great art, there is painful or recognizable truth contained in the words, notes, or brushstrokes. It seems as if they have not seen much of the life they portray on the stage and I felt that it was very disrespectful of their fellow actors.

This show is something that should be put on your viewing schedule. It is entertaining but also a telling social commentary about how business gets done in America. Bernie Madoff and Donald Trump are just the tip of a very dirty iceberg. Also, Trinity Murdock’s performance is not to be missed. Bravo!

     
    
Rating: ★★★★
   
   

Chicago's award-winning theatre company MPAACT presents "The Last Saint on Sugar Hill" by Keith Josef Adkins.

MPAACT’s The Last Saint on Sugar Hill continues through June 12th at Chicago’s Greenhouse Theater Center (2257 N. Clark), with performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm.  Tickets are $23, and can be purchased from the MPAACT website.

  
  

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Goodman Theatre’s 6th Annual New Stages Series

Via Kenneth Jones at Playbill Online

Goodman’s New Stages Series – September 12th to 21st

goodmantheatre

The free series of script-in-hand staged readings of six emerging American playwrights takes place in the Goodman’s Owen Theatre, and is open to the public. Tickets are free, but reservations are required at (312) 443-3800.

Now in its sixth year, the Goodman’s New Stages Series has provided the first look at nearly 30 new plays, many of which have gone on to receive world-premiere productions at the Goodman.

 

 

2008 New Stages Series

Pa’s Hat: A Liberian Legacy by Cori Thomas, directed by Chuck Smith, Sept. 12 at 7 PM “Civil unrest, national heritage and family responsibility converge in this one-act drama that follows an elderly former ambassador and his daughter as they are abducted by a child soldier in war-torn Liberia.”

Safe House by Keith Josef Adkins, directed by Hallie Gordon, Sept. 13 at 7 PM. “A family of color, free since their great-grandfather fought in the Revolutionary War, cannot resist the temptation to help a young woman escape from slavery along the Underground Railroad. In the great American tradition of historical romance, two brothers compete for their birthright of freedom.”

Household Spirits by Mia McCullough, directed by Meghan Beals McCarthy, Sept. 14 at 7 PM. “It’s Christmas Eve in Westchester County and Philip, an entertainment lawyer, and Evelyn, his new wife and agent to the stars, are preparing for a party. Unfortunately, Philip has recently revealed that he’s an alcoholic, and the couple’s teenage children are conspiring to complicate Evelyn’s perfect soirée. In this bitingly funny and unexpectedly thoughtful new play, Chicago playwright Mia McCullough grapples with the complicated nature of family and inheritance.”

Without by Sean Graney, Sept. 19 at 7 PM. “In the back room of a space-themed bar, Rocketman and White White meet for the first time in 15 years. White White has something she needs Rocketman to do – but does he have what it takes to do it? Chicago writer/director Sean Graney (The Hypocrites) pens a devastating look at responsibility and regret.”

Marie Antoinette by David Adjmi, directed by Jackson Gay, Sept. 20 at 7 PM. “How’s a queen to keep her head in the middle of a revolution? A satirical, irreverent portrait of the famous queen and her downfall, this vividly rendered study of celebrity, power and privilege is painted in sad, funny and surrealistic strokes.”

The Long Red Road by Brett C. Leonard, Sept. 21 at 7 PM.

“A devastating new play about the impact of addiction, The Long Red Road introduces Sammy, who has fled his past and landed in South Dakota where he is slowly drinking himself to death. When his young daughter arrives desperate to reunite with her father, Sammy must decide between the self-hatred that consumes him and the responsibilities he has tried to leave behind.”

The free series of script-in-hand staged readings takes place in the Goodman’s Owen Theatre and is open to the public. Tickets are free, but reservations are required at (312) 443-3800. For more information visit the Goodman Theatre website.  

For the entire article, visit (and subscribe to) Playbill Online, at www.playbill.com