When people think Black Ensemble Theater, they think musicals with a capital M. This intimate space on the north side is the place where Motown stories are told the way they should be told and with some of the finest talent in town. Under the direction of its founder, Ms Jackie Taylor, who almost single-handedly built this wonderful venue, audiences in the Chicago area have learned more about “soul” than they could have ever anticipated.
Based on an actual event in a time far, far away, yet in a time where this should not have taken place, we are asked to view the trial of a baseball player, one Moses Fleetwood Walker, back in 1891. Yes, this indeed was the very first Negro baseball player to play in the major leagues. He was in fact the cause of the rule change that banned the Negro from the majors until the days of Jackie Robinson, who was give the title of the first, in spite of history knowing the sage of Walker.
The story of Mr Walker is simple. This man was a fan favorite despite the color of his skin, but after leaving baseball and becoming an employee of the Unites State Postal Service, he was approached by some men who say they wanted to congratulate him for his prowess on the field. As it turns out they had been drinking (and so was he) on that fateful day and Mr. Walker, defending his honor ended up killing one of these men. The trial, which took place in the State of New York, shows how important all lives are, Black and White. This was a time when it was very traditional to not even have a trial but instead just grab the accused and lynch him. This powerful story directed with the artistry that Ms Taylor brings to every production is spell binding and has one of the largest casts ever assembled on their stage, and almost all of it composed of White actors.
The open stage has been designed in a rather unique format, as The A Team has created a courtroom circa 1891. The lighting (Denice Karczewski), sound (Aaron Quick) and the costumes (Ruthanne Swanson) are the icing on the cake as prepared by Ms Taylor, who has added music to the script for effect only, but under the sharp eye of Robert Reddrick, we get the true sense of the times and the trials and tribulations facing those who were involved.
It is a large and very diverse cast of players with many of the men playing a multitude of roles, having many costumes and wig changes to help them create the characters they represent. While there are many main characters, I would have to call this a pure “ensemble” piece in that it takes all of the actors to truly bring this majestic drama to light. Most of you are used to the musicals that are performed at BE, but if you understand up-front that this is a different type of show and open your mind to the lessons one can learn from this production, it is well worth the trip.
Andre Teamer carries the role of Moses and the attorneys who handle a great deal of the dialogue are well played by Jack Birdwell, Nick Ferrin (a stunning portrayal of Harrison Hoyt), Trey Hobbs and Casey Hayes. The judge is deftly handled by Lawrence Garner and Mr. Walker’s brother well played by Tamarus Harvell. His wife, the only woman in the play, is powerfully portrayed by Ms Leslie Collins. The rest of the cast, again a large number of actors and roles is solid:Christopher McMorris, Colin Reeves, Creg Sclavi, James Shinkle, Joey Swift, Joshua Wheeler, Mr. Leslie, Sean Dolan, Gregory Fenner, Joseph Galizia and Terry Gallagher. Bravo! You made it hit home! All Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter! That is what this story tells us and it is stunningly told!
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 3 and 8 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m.
Tickets range from $55- $65 and are available at the box office located at 4450 N. Clark Street (at Montrose), by calling 773-769-4451 or online at www.blackensemble.org
There is enclosed valet parking ($10) or street parking, some metered some not. Running time 2 hours with an intermission.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “The Trial Of Moses Fleetwood Walker