Those of you who attend Timeline Theatre Company productions ( and have for 19 years), know that they present “Yesterday’s stories, Today’s topics”! With all that has been happening in Chicago ( as well as other major cities) dealing with race problems, their current production, the Chicago premiere of “Sunset Baby” has even more meaning than it might have a few years ago. Written by Dominique Morisseau, “Sunset Baby” is a deep, powerful story that deals with a father and his daughter. The girl, Nina (stunningly played by Anji White) has had little connection with her father. Kenyatta, (a strong performance by Phillip Edward Van Lear) the father has been the missing part of her life, until now. Today, as Nina prepares for her “date” her estranged father shows up at her doorstep. This is where the play begins and this is where we begin to watch two lost souls start to find what it is that they have lost.
Finely directed by the always reliable Ron OJ Parson, on a set designed by Regina Garcia, this is 105 minutes (no intermission) of pure story-telling. Kenyatta, who was an activist during the Black Power Movement has come to find his little girl so that he can mend fences so to speak. At least that is what we are led to believe. But as we learn, Nina’s mother, who has recently passed, left her a bundle of letters from the past. These letters deal with the times and the “movement” itself, possibly naming names, thus they may have a value far beyond what either father or daughter might expect. These are two lost people, each trying to rid the memories of their past so they can go on with life as it is.
Speaking of life as it is, Nina, is a prostitute , or so we are led to believe, and drug dealer, living in a studio apartment in a seedy section of Brooklyn with her boyfriend, Damon (deftly handled by Kelvin Roston, Jr.). They are bound by their dreams, but he also has some loose ends that tear his life apart. He had a wife who has left him and taken him away from his son. His son represents his manhood to him and losing him is difficult for his ego and morale. His drug dealing and her work is what keeps them alive and pays the bills. But they have a dream! At least Nina does. To travel overseas and start life over. They are stashing money away so they can have that dream.
When “daddy” comes, confronting his daughter about these letters, Nina begins to see that the money she needs to live her dream may be imminent. At the same time, Damon thinks that she may leave him and go off alone to live her own dream. Kenyatta only wants to clear the air with his daughter and to see exactly what his wife had in those letters. In order to leave some of the mystery of this well written script open for you to see, I will tell you that this is a highly energetic cast presenting a story that makes a lot of sense. The truths that come out are a sign of the times back then (and possibly now). The father felt that what he was doing was for all of the people, despite his own flesh and blood feeling that he ran off and left them behind. All three of these characters are flawed! But, all three of these characters are real! If you recall the headlines and stories of the Black Panther Party and their programs, you just might find yourselves understanding the father. If you have even been left behind by a loved one, you might find yourself sympathizing with Nina. If you are a dad who has had your child taken away from you, you will understand the feelings of Damon. As I said earlier, three human beings, all with flaws (as most of us are) and a story that brings them all together (or does it?).
On the technical side, I must commend Jared Gooding for his lighting,, Christine Pascual for her costumes, Christopher Kriz for his sound and the sparkling original music and Vivian Knouse for her props. The total picture could not have this much strength without the technical aspect of the production
“Sunset Baby” will continue at Timeline Theatre located at 615 West Wellington Avenue ( just west of Broadway) in the Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ, through April 10th with performances as follows:
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 4 and 8 p.m.
Sundays 2 p.m.
EXCEPTIONS: 2/10 at 8:30 p.m.
3/24 at 8:30 p.m.
no show 3/18
added performance 3/20 at 6 p.m.
Tickets range from $38-$51 and can be purchased by calling 773-281-8463 or online at www.timelinetheatre.com, where you can also learn about the open discussions that tie in with the shows. You can also check out www.timelinetheatre.com/sunset_baby/events.htm
Public transportation is easy access and the theater is handicap accessibility.
By the way, if you dine at The Bagel, a block north on Broadway, they will allow you to park in their lot- make sure you tell them your plate number and car make, and as my grandma used to say Enjoy!
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Sunset Baby”.