Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2020-02-19
About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage



REVIEW The African Company Presents Richard III
by Catey Sullivan

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

By Carlyle Brown. At: Oak Park Festival Theatre, Austin Gardens, 167 Forest Ave., Oak Park. Tickets: 708-300-3896 or; $20-$32, free children under 12. Runs through: Sept. 1

A little more than three decades after the founders signed off on the Constitution of the United States, a group of free Blacks in New York created the African Grove Theater Company.

With The African Company Presents Richard III, playwright Carlyle Brown creates a vivid, hard-hitting dramatization of the extraordinary company's passionate efforts to bring Shakespeare to life, and to claim the words of a playwright that for centuries had been the sole purview of WASPs/white Anglo-Saxons.

Working with a gifted ensemble, Director Ron OJ Parson crafts a drama that's potent with sorrow, laughter, thrilling action sequences and poetic language. Like so much of Shakespeare's dialogue, the meter underlying Carlyle's words has the rhythm of heartbeats. Humanity is embedded into the sonic bones of the script, and Parson's cast doesn't skip a beat.

If you're lucky, starting a theater company is a Herculean task. More often, it's a Sisyphean one. For the African Company, it is both. In 1821 New York, the group faces the usual, formidable challenges of creating a theater—finding funding, the soul of the play, actors who can illuminate that soul and designers who can turn scraps of wood and cloth into the wondrous context of costumes and scenery.

As Carlyle's plot progresses, we see the African company beating overwhelming odds, mastering the text of Richard III while fending off a larger world that wants them to cease existing. Their triumph comes accompanied by backlash and brutality that's difficult to watch. They persist nevertheless, wresting a sublime victory from Shakespeare's violent tragedy. Even when the company has literally been brought to its knees ( with clubs and whips ), their powers of artistry and endurance shine through.

The ensemble is anchored by Johnny Lee Davenport as Papa Shakespeare, a former slave whose powers of percussion seep toward the otherworldly. Davenport makes Papa Shakespeare's drum the equivalent of a talisman or a witch's familiar. The sounds that come from it seem to emanate from somewhere beyond the waking world.

Most of actors play two roles: their parts in Richard III and their off-stage selves. As Ann/Lady Anne, Ariel Richardson is a stunner throughout. Ann's problems with playing Lady Anne—a woman who agrees to mary the man who butchered her husband and her beloved father—give a crystalline clarity to a problem confounds many a production of Richard III. Richardson has a "rehearsal" scene Brandon Greenhouse, who plays both Richard III and African company member James Hewlett. Swerving between the text of Shakespeare's tragedy and the emotional complexities of their real lives, the pair deliver a scene of extraordinary impact. Anyone decides to stage Richard III straight up needs to call these two in.

Parson leans in to the sometimes shocking relevance Richard III has today. Mark Lancaster's violence design brings home the heinous barbarity of a system where racist cops are encouraged to thrive and something as innocuous as performing-while-black can turn into a death sentence. There's a scene when an unruly audience boos a monologue from Hamlet an demands instead to hear a minstrel song. It becomes a moment of cringing humiliation and barely contained rage—and an emblem of the countless indignities ( or worse ) through countless generations. It also evokes every heinous stereotype from Edwin Forrest and "Sambo," to Birth of a Nation to Tarzan to Gone With the Wind and beyond.

The African Company Presents Richard III is a high-water mark for Oak Park Festival Theatre. Parson's next endeavor is helming Radio Golf at the Court, opening in early September. Both shows are causes for celebration.

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


Gay News

'Judy & Liza' tribute March 5-April 5 2020-02-19 - The tribute show "Judy & Liza—Once In A Lifetime: The London Palladium Concert" will be presented at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. ...

Gay News

'...Love Is Queer to Stay' throughout Feb. 2020-02-19 - The Laughing Stock Theatre production The Masquerade; Or, Love Is Queer to Stay presents a queer spin on classical tropes, and will run ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW The Boys in the Band 2020-02-18 - Playwright: Mart Crowley At: Windy City Playhouse, 3014 W. Irving Park Rd. Tickets: Price: $75-95. Runs through: April 19 In ...

Gay News

OPERA REVIEW The Queen of Spades 2020-02-18 - Score: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky; Libretto: Modest Tchaikovsky; after Alexander Pushkin. At: Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Wacker Dr. Tickets: 312-827-5600 or ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Roan @ The Gates 2020-02-18 - Playwright: Christina Telesca Gorman At: American Blues Theater at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: $19-$39. Runs through: Feb. 29 ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Emma 2020-02-18 - Playwright: Paul Gordon ( book, music & lyrics ) At: Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier. Tickets: 312-595-5600;; $35-$90. Runs through: March 15 ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Lipstick Lobotomy 2020-02-18 - Playwright: Krista Knight At: Trap Door Theater, 1655 W. Cortland Ave. Tickets: $20-$25; Runs through: March 21 Home, goes the adage, ...

Gay News

ShOWBIZ 'Drag Race' judges, Dwyane Wade, 'Porgy,' Of Montreal, Cirque du Soleil 2020-02-18 - RuPaul Drag Race's season-12 guest judges consist of film, music, television, fashion and political figures such as Nicki Minaj, Whoopi Goldberg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, ...

Gay News

Black Ensemble Theater opens Season of Change with Legends the Musical 2020-02-18 - CHICAGO, IL — Black Ensemble Theater opens its 2020 Season: Season of Change with Legends the Musical: A Civil Rights Movement, Yesterday, Today ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Roan @ The Gates 2020-02-17 - Playwright: Christina Telesca Gorman At: American Blues Theater at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: $19-$39. Runs through: Feb. 29 ...


Copyright © 2020 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.







About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.