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Theater: Panther Burn

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Playwright: Aaron Carter

At: MPAACT at Victory Gardens Greenhouse, 2257 N. Lincoln

Phone: 773-871-3000; $16-$22.50

Through: Dec. 3


You can't get more ironic than the look on Alfred Wilson's face as he plays a Black hostage sarcastically singing We Shall Overcome while shackled in chains.

This disturbing image opens up the second act of Aaron Carter's ambitious drama Panther Burn, now playing in a world premiere production by the Ma'at Production Association of Afrikan Centered Theatre ( MPAACT ) . The play's lofty premise makes it even more shocking.

In Panther Burn, Carter dreams up a situation where two radical Black revolutionaries manufacture a white-on-black racist incident to re-energize the rage and sense of community African Americans felt during the 1960s civil-rights movement. These radicals kidnap the mixed-race college-age daughter of a Black governor ( and an older Black real-estate developer who was a bystander ) and frame it as if white supremacists are holding them hostage.

It's an intriguing premise that allows Carter to sharply question what happened to the passion of the civil rights era and how much African Americans have truly achieved in the country after the end of segregation. Alas, Carter and the crew illuminating Panther Burn run up short of making the situation and the characters' extreme actions fully believable.

Carter's dialogue is largely genuine and he allows the audience to see the viewpoints that motivate his characters. Yet there is a missing link between in the characters‚ words and their eventual extreme actions. Even with both victims and captors suffering from Stockholm Syndrome ( where they identify with each other's position ) , it's not enough to make the characters believably enact the rushed and shocking conclusion.

The verisimilitude of Panther Burn also rings a bit false since most of the actors under Andrea J. Dymond's direction are not pushed to the necessary crazy extremes. There's an odd exhausted quality to Mignon McPherson Nance's performance as Becca, the underground kidnapper who orchestrates the plot. That necessary fiery quality is also not in full flame in Michael Pogue's uneven turn as Jason, Becca's young charge who has known no other life than that of a radical.

Alfred Wilson's world-weariness is appropriate as the developer Charles, but you still would like more anger and fear from him as he suffers the brunt of this bizarre Black-on-Black violence.

Of the four actors, Samantha Tanner's performance is the most honest as the governor's daughter, Geneva. Watching the terror in Tanner's eyes and her trembling lips is heart-wrenching as she suffers the abuse and shame of her captors for living a privileged life.

Though it suffers from a way-out-of-left-field ending, there is still much to admire in Carter's thoughtful and smart play. The questions Carter poises in Panther Burn certainly deserve a larger audience. This scenario ( which would also make a taut and thought-provoking film thriller ) could just be the right thing if all the unbelievable kinks get worked out.

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