At: Lookingglass Theatre,
821 N. Michigan Ave. Tickets: Lookingglass Theatre.org; $40- $75. Runs through: April 22
Imagine the Three Stooges dressed up in Klan robes, terrorizing a trio of Black women in the middle of the night, intent on making the women leave town in fear for their lives.
Now, play that scene as part of a banana-bonkers laff-riot farce, complete with slamming doors, slapstick pratfalls and cartoon-style mugging. So it goes in Plantation!, playwright Kevin Douglas' ultimately deplorable new "comedy."
The three African-American sisters are more than a match for the three Southern belles who don pillowcase hoods in the wee hours. But knowing the Black women from Chicago will have no problem vanquishing the sheet-draped Texans doesn't make Lookingglass Theatre's world premiere any more palatable.
Douglas' plot has potential: The story starts with the aptly named Lillian Wright ( Janet Ulrich Brooks ), matriarch of a Texas plantation that has been in her lily-white family for over a century. Except as Lillian learns, the family isn't so white after all. After hiring a genealogist, Lilian learns her great-great-great-great grandfather sired a son with a slave named Sarah. Lilian tracks down Sarah's descendants to the Chicago Wright sisters: London ( Lily Mojekwu ), Madison ( Timberlake Perry ) and Sydney ( Ericka Ratcliff ). Lilian invites the three to Texas, intent on giving them the plantation as a form of reparations.
Predictably, Lilian's entitled, emotionally stunted daughters Kara ( Linsey Page Morton ), Kayley ( Grace Smith ) and Kimberly Wright ( Louise Lamson ) are outraged. The issues Douglas raises are the stuff of potentially intense, intricate drama. But things go bad because Plantation plays like a mash-up of Twelve Years a Slave ( the film comes up repeatedly ) with F-Troop.
Director David Schwimmer exacerbates the disconnect, pushing the cast to milk an entire Guernsey from every over-the-top reaction and sight-gag. Collectively, the actors dial the slapstick up to 10. When the Klan robes come out, it inches toward 12. Everyone is always "extra" ( in the words of one character ), buffooning their way through the blessedly short ( 90 minutes ) endeavor. Not even the formidable powers of a uniformly gifted ensemble ( Brooks and Mojekwu are not women to be trifled with ) can alleviate the problems here. .
There are two unimpeachable elements of Plantation! The first is scenic designer Courtney O'Neill's rendering the titular home's interior. O'Neill's work will make you want to go home and redecorate ( ideally minus oil paintings of slaves ). From the built-in book shelves to the graceful, airy spaciousness, the Wright home is majestic.
The second comes toward the final moments, and deals with the portrait that's been glowering down on the proceedings throughout. Saying much more would be a spoiler, so just know that there's a nearly silent scene that brings a long-dead slave into sharp, heroic focus. It's a memorable manifestation of empowerment, especially the power of being fully seen after a lifetime of invisibility.
Powerful though that scene is, you can't play the Klan for yuks. Well, I suppose you can. But the results will be cringe-inducing.