The venerable Court Theatre kicks off its 60th season with yet another world premiere, Native Son, based on Richard Wright’s iconic novel about oppression, freedom, and justice. Adapted by Nambi E. Kelley, this production is a unique collaboration between the Court and the American Blues Theater and continues the Courts’ tradition of bringing important and relevant stories to a modern audience.
The story is set in the 1930’s on Chicago’s south side. America has been changing. The Great Migration of Southern African Americans to Northern industrial cities has occurred and Chicago has become a segregated city. Bigger Thomas is a black 20 year old living with his family in a one room apartment, suffocating in rat-infested poverty. In an opening scene, Bigger takes a skillet and kills a black rat that has invaded their apartment, somehow it appears personal. He has thoughts of becoming a pilot but knows that the world would never perceive him in such a role and he struggles to find a place for himself in a world whose prejudice has shut him out. He is able to find work as a chauffeur for a well-to-do white family, specifically to drive Mary, the liberal and often inebriated daughter of his employer. He takes her to meet her communist friend Jan and is drawn into a scenario of choice that he can not win. We begin to sympathize with his character, as he is pushed and pulled, until, an unfortunate and unintentional event leads him to become a fugitive and the image of society’s perception. His subsequent flight and fear drive him to violence that seals his fate and only then does he see himself through his own eyes.
Ms. Kelley portrays two Biggers in this play, two views of the same man. Public Bigger is the Bigger that everyone sees and talks to; Private Bigger is the unseen man, the man within. Jerod Haynes plays Bigger with aplomb and skill, providing the gamut of emotions that let us know how desperate he is becoming. Eric Lynch is the “Black Rat” voice of the Private Bigger who is always present but not always right in what to do. Although Bigger internalizes himself in a negative way as a dirty vile, black rat, his consciousness “the Black Rat” is not negative. The two actors do a fine job of portraying the duality of Bigger and allowing the audience to see
the many complex forces at work. The ensemble of Shanesia Davis, Tosin Morohunfola, Edgar Miguel Sanchez, Joe Dempsey Nora Fiffer, James Leaming, Carmen Roman, Tracy Bonner, and Jeff Plim are outstanding and provide the character framework to support the story. This adaptation, skillfully directed by Seret Scott, captures the tone, the language, and the sociopolitical and cultural landscape that still plagues many young black males today.
Native Son will run through October 19, 2014 at with performances as follows:
Wednesday and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.
Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago, IL
Tickets run $45-$65 and are available at:
Box Office: (773) 753-4472
Parking is available in the garage next to the theater.
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