As a native Chicagoan, out actor Daniel Kyri grew up seeing shows at the city's major regional theaters. So now that Kyri is making his Goodman Theatre debut in the drama Objects in the Mirror, he's very humbled and excited.
"Every day when I walk in and see the towing Goodman sign, I have the realization that I'm here for work," Kyri said. "It feels a little bit like a dream."
Objects in the Mirror is a world-premiere refugee drama by Charles Smith, a former member of the Victory Gardens Theater Playwrights Ensemble. Known for plays like Knock Me a Kiss and Denmark, Smith was inspired to write Objects in the Mirror after traveling in 2009 to Adelaide, Australia, to see a production of his Jeff Award-winning drama A Free Man of Color.
That production's star was Liberian actor Shedrick Yarkpai, who ended up in Australia after escaping from being recruited as a child soldier in his civil war-torn homeland and enduring a number of West African refugee camps. Smith was so compelled by Yarkpai that he befriended him and got permission to dramatize his life story in Objects in the Mirror.
Smith had a chance to workshop Objects in the Mirror as part of the Goodman Theatre's 2015 New Stages festival. Though Kyri wasn't previously involved in that version, he is enjoying the whole process of working with so many determined artists to get Objects in the Mirror on its feet.
Kyri portrays Yarkpai, and he feels the weight of embodying another person's real-life story. Though Kyri hasn't had a chance to meet with Yarkpai yet, he is drawing from Smith's many stories about his relationship to develop his character.
"There is the pressure to tell the story correctly," Kyri said. "His story was entrusted to another artist, so there is the heightened experience of respect and I think that in our approach to him, a lot of that comes through."
Kyri likes the fact that Objects in the Mirror not only depicts the harrowing events that Yarkpai faced in Africa, but also about his difficulties of integrating into Australian society.
"The struggles of a refugee doesn't stop once they find asylum elsewhere," Kyri said. "That struggle continues because essentially you're feeling like a visitor in another country and space. The things that you leave behind in order to fit into this new home gets brought up a lot in terms of the sacrifices the characters have to make in their journey to find their idea of home or freedom or safety."
Part of Yarkpai's adjustment to Australia was encountering openly gay people like the character of Rob Mosher ( Ryan Kitley ), who tries to help him.
"This traditional West African man having this conversation with an Australian queer-identifying gay manthe scene between them is so dynamic," Yarkpai said. "They butt heads with their different belief systemsand watching them sort of navigate that conversation and dialogue is interesting because it's so real."
And given how in recent months how so much hateful rhetoric has been directed toward refugees and immigrants, the Goodman's programming of Objects in the Mirror has proven to be especially prescient.
"We see so much in the media, especially under the new administration, I feel like there is a distancing that is happening between us and them," Kyri said. "And there's a lot of division happening in the world and the only way to break down those divides and divisions is to see the humanity in each other."
Kyri especially likes works that push against separate categories and where issues like race, class and sexuality intersect and overlap. Kyri said some of his future works include planned collaborations with Samantha Bailey ( the web series Brown Girls which focuses on queer women of color ) and an online series about LGBTQ African-American life in Chicago called The T.
But for now, Kyri is relishing the chance to collaborate with director Chuck Smith and playwright Charles Smith in Objects in the Mirror. It's a project that is very dear to Kyri's heart, and he recognizes its significance.
"It's so appropriate that a story like this is also allowed to take up space on the mainstage of the Goodman Theatre. Representation matters," Kyri said. "As a Black queer man myself living in the city of Chicago who grew up on the South Side, these are the stories that I want to see and these are the stories that I want to have a hand in telling."
The world premiere of Charles Smith's Objects in the Mirror continues through Sunday, June 4, at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St. Previews run through May 7 with an official press opening May 8. Tickets are $20-$75. Call 312-443-3800 or visit GoodmanTheatre.org .