Recommended *** Sometimes it is difficult to give a play a true rating. Often, while the production may have shining moments, worthy of four or five stars, there are also points that bring it down to a lower level. The World Premiere that was placed on the stage at Victory gardens Theater tonight, was one of these productions. Directed by Artistic Director, Chay Yew, this one act (95 minutes- no intermission) play is a story that is told, dating back to the 1600’s, in Virginia. This was a time of class, rather than color for those who lived in the tobacco-growing colonies.
Playwright, Marcus Gadley, did not set out to write this play at all. In fact, as he was engaged in writing a piece called “A Wonder In My Soul” which is set in the great migration to Chicago by the African-Americans who left the South. While fact gathering, our country began to have history of its own take place; Trayon Martin, Eric Garner and of course the events of Ferguson Missouri. Gardley, then switched horses so to speak and took a look at the past versus the present in regards to the race issues of then and how they have changed (of have not changed).
This story is about a time when an African-American couple was given some land, after serving their term as forced labor and how they took this small acreage and grew it to become one of the largest tobacco growers in their area. This woman (her husband had “passed”), was known as Negro Mary (an intense and solid portrayal by Lizan Mitchell). She has a son, John Israel First (strongly played by Tosin Morohunfola) who has been residing in England for many years. Negro Mary feels that a curse has been placed on her family and her land, which is why she shipped her son off to England, and now, it turns out, he has come back, to wed his love,Calla (the lovely Eleni Pappageorge), an Irish girl, who is a slave, but can be released from her owner by wedding a man of money. She is truly seeking her escape, as she is in love with the local constable, Mason Esau (Steve O’Connell), a married man whose duty is to his community and his family.
The other characters in this intense story are a married couple, Nova Goode (E. Faye Butler, once again hitting the nail on the head) and an incredible Cleavant Derriks as her husband, Dozens Goode. They are the keepers of this house and the plantation workers and are very near to ending their work agreement. 13 years and freedom is theirs, but the government is looking at new rules and these would make slavery a “forever” thing!. What is tricky in this story is that we have a White slave seeking her wedding to a Black man to gain her freedom, and a Black man who is the “master of the house” being arrested for not having proper papers by the lawman who desires the woman he is about to marry. A bit contrived to say the least! The tech was terrific and the fight choreography (Ryan Bourque), masterful.
There is also a rebellion in the works and Dozens is the leader of this, after buying his wife’s contract from Negro Mary. Again, many little side stories that although a bit contrived were working fine. I am not sure that any of the facts in this story are in fact, real, but Gardley has woven a fine character study of the people. That is until the end. I will not tell you all of the things that happen during the so-called rebellion, but there is a scene when the three women are facing the audience with a knife, a sword and rifle in their hands. A gripping moment when chills were heading down my spine and what might have been the perfect ending. At that moment, our playwright opted to bring in current events and that my friends was when ***** became ***. You be the judge!
Tuesdays 7:30 p.m.
NOT 4/14 and 4/21
Wednesdays 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays 4 p.m.
4/18, 4/25 and 5/2
Sundays 3 p.m.
Tickets range from $15- $60 and are available at the box office, by phone at 773-871-3000 or online at www.vistorygardens.org
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “An Issue of Blood: An Historical Parable”