Thursday October 19th 2017

“A Wonder In My Soul”

wonder-910x375-1Highly Recommended **** Tonight, I felt as if I were back at Victory Gardens Theater, as it was! It was a glorious feeling, sitting in the theater and watching the World Premiere of Marcus Gardley’s “A Wonder In My Soul”, a warm and sweet little story about two women and their lives together. There are some ups and downs, moments of sadness and those that are comical. Gardley also has music in his story, as one of the ladies came to Chicago in order to break into that business. The two women, who have shared many years together own a beauty salon on the South side. The play begins with Aberdeen, known as Birdie ( a powerful performance by Greta Oglesby) breaks the fourth wall and speaks to the audience, narrating a bit of the story, which also uses flashbacks. During the flashbacks, Birdie is performed by Camille Robinson (who has a powerful voice and an adorable stage presence). Birdie’s best friend and partner, Bell  is portrayed by Chicago favorite Jaqueline Williams. In the flashbacks, Bell is brought to life by  Donica Lynn (who also, a sit turns out, has a solid vocal range).Both of these “flashback” actresses also have their own characters in the play, and are able to change costumes and identities with great ease. They are two terrific talents.

Back to the story- Their neighborhood is one of those going through gentrification, and despite the crime and the problems of property values, they have decided that they want to remain as they have been, a center of the community. Business has not been up to the numbers they used to do and so they are faced with some financial problems. The women had given their savings to Bell’s son, Lafayette (deftly handled by Jeffrey Owen Freelon, Jr) so that he could build his not-for-profit youth center. Bell also has a daughter, Paulina (Lynn is solid in this role as well as young Bell) who is a Chicago cop. NOTE: there is mention that she resides in Evanston, which would be against the rules of the CPD and has been through every mayor since I have lived in the Chicago area.soul

One of their regular customers is one lady who has married well and moved to the suburbs, but still comes back for her hair and gossip. She is called “First Lady” and is handsomely played by Linda Bright Clay. Her title is that which the local church has bestowed upon her. Her “aide” is Normal Beverly (Camille Robinson is right on target with this character), who does odds and ends for the First Lady which keeps her in her home and able to pay bills. I certainly do not want to give away the plot, but will tell you that the play gets to the heart of true friendship and the love that a “family” can have, even when that “family” is NOT blood.

The lifetime relationship between these two women comes to life through the flashbacks and their scenes between the two of them. Director Chay Yew seems to have put his heart and soul into this one, making us feel all the emotions that we should as the love between these two women is unveiled for all to see. The beauty salon where all the action takes place is designed by  Kurtis Boetcher and truly gives us the feeling of a shop that faces the outside world and the street. There are some scenes where weather is mentioned, but they did not go all out to make us see or hear the rain or snow. Instead, the actors relayed the feelings to us through their words and actions. Guess what, they acted!

The story covers many years and many Chicago pieces of history. We also go through the election of the first Black President, Barack Obama and mention of Harold Washington, who was the first Black Mayor of Chicago. We are all aware of the gangs and violence in the communities of our city, and there are some statements about this as well. What we learn is that often to save a child, we must take roads that would otherwise be avoided. Well said!

The lighting (Less Fiskness) and sound (Mikhail Fiksel) along with original music (Jaret Landon) and the costumes (Izumi Inana) all worked to perfection. Liviu Pasare’s projections of Chicago during the many years brought back some great memories for me. I was surprised though that when The Regal Theater (a great showplace on the South side) was mentioned, they did not have video on that, but instead showed us the old Randolph Street Oriental and the State-Lake and Chicago Theaters on State Street. It may seem small, but if this play is to go on and perhaps become a Broadway production, why not fix the little things. Tech-wise, one would have to say that Johnny Jamison’s wigs and hair design are almost the equivalent of another actor on the stage and the props (Mealah Heidenreich and Alec Long) were amazing. By the way, there are some songs from the eras, including a great deal of Diana Ross!soul3

As I said at the onset, this play is filled with highs and lows, happiness and sorrow, but as a great writer once said ( I think his initials were W.S.) “All’s well that ends well” and this play, despite the highs and lows, and the tear that you will find on your cheek, will bring a happy smile to your face and a warm feeling to your heart. “A Wonder In My Soul” will continue at Victory Gardens Theater , located at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue (at Fullerton) through March 12th with performances as follows:

soul2Tuesdays 7:30 p.m.

Wednesdays  7:30 p.m.

Thursdays  7:30 p.m.

Fridays  7:30 p.m.

Saturdays  3 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.

Sundays  3 p.m.

Act I is one hour and 10 minutes and act two  one hour and 5 minutes with a 15 minute intermission TOTAL two-hours-thirty-minutes

ACCESSIBLE dates: open caption  2/24, 2/25 and 3/1

Audio Description  2/24 (touch tour at 6 p.m.) and 3/5 (touch tour at 1:30 p.m.)

ASL and word-for-word  2/24 at 7:30 p.m.soul5

Tickets range from $15- $60 and are available at the box office, by calling 773-871-3000 or online at www.victorygardens.org

Parking is metered on the street and valet is available . Unmetered parking is very hard to find that is not “permit”.

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at ” A Wonder In My Soul”

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