Objects in the Mirror, an outstanding play having its premier at Goodman Theatre, will soon have you wanting to know more about its author, Charles Smith, a Chicago playwright.
Starring Daniel Kyri as Shedrick Yarkpai, this play springs from the true story of the real life Yarkpai, a refugee who fled Liberia in the aftermath of its first Civil War, struggling for 12 years across hostile terrain and through refugee camps in Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire.
Excellent performances and a creative set and lighting make this a show not to miss, especially for the wonderful writing of Charles Smith. Breon Arzell plays cousin Zaza Workolo; Ryan Kitley is Rob Mosher; and Lily Mojekwu as Shedrick’s mother Luopu Workolo is just spectacular – she steals all her scenes.
The real life Shedrick Yarkpai eventually made his way to Adelaide, Australia, and as fate would have it became an actor. And so, playwright Smith met him and heard his tale while staging another of his plays there - Free Man of Color (it won a 2004 Jeff Award and has been staged widely, including the Goodman).
Shedrick Yarkpai’s passage through the wilderness alone would be a worthy story, bringing our attention to the privation in Liberia wrought by years of civil chaos. But this play would not succeed as it does, unless it can hold our attention and keep us in our seats.
And here Smith’s skillful craft shines through, along with director Chuck Smith and the creative team, who have turned the years-long odyssey of the protagonists, Shedrick and his uncle John Workolo (Allen Gilmore is terrific) – they ate grass, lived in the bush, both life and limbs, literally, endangered by violent, machete wielding warriors – and condensed it into an engaging trek, showing geography, educating us on the history, but all in an entertaining way, unlikely as this may seem.
Objects in the Mirror is so much more than a topical recount of Liberian suffering and struggle. Smith also puts before us the psychological and emotional toll on all refugees who must give up so much of their culture, and themselves, in resettling. Among the things so striking about Smith’s play is how he holds our interest in Shedrick’s odyssey. But he subordinates it to a more charged dramatic concern: the personal compromises refugees must make in escaping, and losses that can never be reclaimed.
In a way that only theater can, we engage and experience the personal emotional stress. And while we know of the trauma, what Smith conveys is the suffering from loss of identity, and of dreams. Shedrick has adopted a false identity to make it through border crossings – but he regrets the loss of his name.
Shedrick is a dreamer. He is also a storyteller, as is Smith, and the characters he has created. "Through storytelling, the play ascends to a powerful examination of truth and falsity, and the powers of persuasion. All good stories tell a strand of the truth," says Uncle John.
Once in Adelaide, Yarkpai finds work with a supportive Australian government agent – but Shedrick’s uncle John is fearful it will blow their cover. The debate through several scenes in which different characters tell their version of the parts of Shedrick's story is the stuff of great theater.
The creative team includes Riccardo Hernandez (set design), Mike Tutaj (projection design), John Culbert (lighting design), Birgit Rattenborg Wise (costume design), Ray Nardelli (sound design). Briana J. Fahey is the production stage manager.
Objects in the Mirror runs through June 4 at the Goodman Theatre. It is highly recommended.
The cast and creative team is complete for Objects in the Mirror, a Goodman Theatre-commissioned world premiere by Charles Smith. Directed by Resident Director Chuck Smith, Objects in the Mirror is inspired by the playwright’s real-life friendship with a Liberian refugee-turned-actor, Shedrick Yarkpai—portrayed by Daniel Kyri, in his Goodman debut. The production was developed through the 2015 New Stages festival and features a 5-member cast who brings to life the gripping account of one Liberian refugee’s attempts to find peace by exposing a potentially dangerous lifelong secret. Objects in the Mirror appears April 29 through June 4 (opening night is May 8) in the Albert Theatre. Tickets ($20-$75; subject to change) are now on sale and available at GoodmanTheatre.org/Objects, the box office (170 N. Dearborn) or by phone at 312.443.3800.
“In Objects in the Mirror, we’re placed directly into the lives of a family of refugees fleeing the violence of their homeland; we walk several miles in their shoes which forces us to take a good look at what we seem to be afraid of,” said Goodman Theatre Resident Director Chuck Smith, who marks his third world premiere collaboration with Smith—Knock Me a Kiss (Victory Gardens Theater) and Gospel According to James (Indiana Repertory Theatre). “I’m thrilled to reunite with my close friend Charles and excited to work with this exceptional cast and creative team to share Shedrick’s life story with Chicagoland audiences and beyond.”
In 2009, [Charles] Smith traveled to Adelaide, Australia, to see a production of his play Free Man of Color, which featured Shedrick Yarkpai (Kyri), a young Liberian actor, in the title role. He learned about the actor’s tumultuous journey from war-torn Liberia through a number of refugee camps in Western Africa, before his final relocation to Australia. In addition to Kyri, the cast also includes Breon Arzell (Zaza Workolo), Allen Gilmore (John Workolo), Ryan Kitley (Rob Mosher) and Lily Mojekwu (Luopu Workolo), who reprises her role from the 2015 New Stages developmental production. The creative team includes Riccardo Hernandez (sets), Birgit Rattenborg-Wise (costumes), John Culbert (lights), Ray Nardelli (sound) and Mike Tutaj (projections).
Conagra Brands is the Major Corporate Sponsor, PwC is the Corporate Sponsor Partner, the National Endowment for the Arts is providing Major Production Support and it was awarded the New Play Award by the Edgerton Foundation.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
CHARLES SMITH (Playwright, Objects in the Mirror) Black Star Line was commissioned and produced by Goodman Theatre and his play Objects in the Mirror appeared at the 2015 New Stages Festival. As a former member of the Victory Gardens Theater Playwrights Ensemble, Smith’s world premiere works include Knock Me a Kiss (directed by Chuck Smith); Freefall, Jelly Belly, Denmark, The Sutherland and Cane (all directed by Dennis Zacek); Takunda and the Jeff Award-winning Free Man of Color (directed by Andrea J. Diamond). His plays Gospel According to James (also directed by Chuck Smith), Sister Carrie and Les Tois Dumas were all commissioned and produced by Indiana Repertory Theatre. His play Pudd’nhead Wilson was commissioned and produced off-Broadway by The Acting Company after a national tour. His work has also been produced at various theaters nationally and in Australia, and may be obtained through Samuel French, Dramatic Publishing, Northwestern Press, Swallow Press and other publishers. Smith currently teaches playwriting at Ohio University.
CHUCK SMITH (Director ) is a member of Goodman Theatre’s Board of Trustees and is Goodman Theatre’s Resident Director. He is also a resident director at the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe in Sarasota, Florida. Goodman credits include the Chicago premieres of Pullman Porter Blues; By the Way, Meet Vera Stark; Race; The Good Negro; Proof and The Story; the world premieres of By the Music of the Spheres and The Gift Horse; James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner, which transferred to Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company, where it won the Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) Award for Best Direction; A Raisin in the Sun; Blues for an Alabama Sky; August Wilson’s Two Trains Running and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Ain’t Misbehavin’; the 1993 to 1995 productions of A Christmas Carol; Crumbs From the Table of Joy; Vivisections from a Blown Mind and The Meeting. He served as dramaturg for the Goodman’s world-premiere production of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean. He directed the New York premiere of Knock Me a Kiss and The Hooch for the New Federal Theatre and the world premiere of Knock Me a Kiss at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater, where his other directing credits include Master Harold... and the Boys, Home, Dame Lorraine and Eden, for which he received a Jeff Award nomination. Regionally, Smith directed Death and the King’s Horseman (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), Birdie Blue (Seattle Repertory Theatre), The Story (Milwaukee Repertory Theater), Blues for an Alabama Sky (Alabama Shakespeare Festival) and The Last Season (Robey Theatre Company). At Columbia College he was facilitator of the Theodore Ward Prize playwriting contest for 20 years and editor of the contest anthologies Seven Black Plays and Best Black Plays. He won a Chicago Emmy Award as associate producer/theatrical director for the NBC teleplay Crime of Innocence and was theatrical director for the Emmy-winning Fast Break to Glory and the Emmy-nominated The Martin Luther King Suite. He was a founding member of the Chicago Theatre Company, where he served as artistic director for four seasons and directed the Jeff-nominated Suspenders and the Jeff-winning musical Po’. His directing credits include productions at Fisk University, Roosevelt University, Eclipse Theatre, ETA, Black Ensemble Theater, Northlight Theatre, MPAACT, Congo Square Theatre Company, The New Regal Theater, Kuumba Theatre Company, Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, Pegasus Players, the Timber Lake Playhouse in Mt. Carroll, Illinois and the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He is a 2003 inductee into the Chicago State University Gwendolyn Brooks Center’s Literary Hall of Fame and a 2001 Chicago Tribune Chicagoan of the Year. He is the proud recipient of the 1982 Paul Robeson Award and the 1997 Award of Merit presented by the Black Theater Alliance of Chicago.
BREON ARZELL (Zaza Workolo) makes his Goodman Theatre debut. A Detroit native, Arezell was most recently seen in Kokandy Production's The Wiz, which he also choreographed. Other Chicago credits include Rutherford’s Travels (Pegasus Theatre Chicago); You on the Moors Now, All Our Tragic (Jeff Award for Best Ensemble) and Johanna Faustus (The Hypocrites); The Hairy Ape (Oracle Productions, Jeff Award for Artistic Specialization for Choreography and Jeff nomination for Best Ensemble); Direct from Death Row The Scottsboro Boys (Raven Theatre, Jeff Award for Best Ensemble); War Song (The Plagiarists); Superman 2050 (Theater Unspeakable) and more. He has also choreographed productions for Porchlight Music Theatre, Victory Gardens Theater, Writers Theater and The Hypocrites. A graduate of Miami of Ohio University, his talents have allowed him to work and perform in London, Wales, Denmark, Singapore, Italy, Germany and across the U.S. BreonArzell.com
ALLEN GILMORE (John Workolo) returns to the Goodman, where he previously appeared in The Matchmaker and two productions of A Christmas Carol. Chicago credits include The African Company Presents Richard the Third and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (Orgie award, Jeff and Black Theatre Alliance Award nominations) at Congo Square Theatre; Cyrano, Endgame, Sizwe Banzi is Dead (Jeff, BTA and Black Excellence Award nominations), Jitney, The Misanthrope, Seven Guitars, Waiting for Godot (Jeff, BTA and Black Excellence Award nominations), The Good Book and One Man Two Guvnors at Court Theatre; Argonautika and Arabian Nights at Lookingglass Theatre Company and also on tour; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (BroadwayWorld nomination) at Writers Theatre and Fabulation at Next Theatre Company. Gilmore is a 2015 Lunt-Fontanne Fellow, a 2015 3Arts awardee, a U.S. Army Infantry veteran and an ensemble member of Congo Square Theatre Company.
RYAN KITLEY (Rob Mosher) returns to the Goodman, where he most recently appeared in the New Stages Festival production of Support Group for Men. He also recently portrayed various historical figures in the six-month run of Assassination Theater. Additional credits include major roles at Royal George Theatre, Shattered Globe Theatre, Drury Lane Theatre, Writers Theatre, The Matrix Theater, Colony Theater, The Organic Theatre, Mercury Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Piven Theatre Workshop, Theatre at the Center and Meadow Brook Theatre. Kitley received a Jeff Award for Best Ensemble in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Shattered Globe and a Jeff nomination for Best Supporting Actor in The Big Funk with Clock Productions. Film and television credits include Chicago P.D., Empire, Chicago Fire, Boss, Detroit 1-8-7, Turks, Early Edition, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Miss March, Soul Survivors, Barbershop II, Dig Two Graves and Guidance, among others. He is a member of SAG-AFTRA.
DANIEL KYRI (Shedrick Yakrpai) makes his Goodman Theatre debut. Chicago credits include Monster (Steppenwolf Theatre Company); Tug of War Part 1 & 2: Foreign Fire and Civil Strife (Chicago Shakespeare Theater) and Moby Dick (Lookingglass Theatre Company). Regional credits include Look Away (TheatreSquared). Television and film credits include Henry Gamble's Birthday Party, Unexpected (Kris Swanberg) and Kid Nation. Kyri is represented by Stewart Talent.
LILY MOJEKWU (Luopa Workolo) returns to the Goodman, where she last appeared in the New Stages Festival production of Objects in the Mirror and Bugs of the Pigs in the Lions, also directed by Chuck Smith. Chicago credits include Look, We are Breathing (Rivendell Theatre Ensemble); The Commons of Pensacola (Northlight Theatre); Luck of the Irish, Welcome Home Jenny Sutter, The Overwhelming and Well (Next Theatre); Romeo and Juliet (Chicago Shakespeare Theater); A Twist of Water (Route 66 Theatre Company); FML: How Carson McCullers Saved My Life, The Elephant Man and understudy performances in The Brother Sister Plays and Intimate Apparel (Steppenwolf Theatre Company). Mojekwu has also spent summers in Frankfort, Michigan performing in Richard III, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, King Lear, Henry V and Love’s Labors Lost with the Chicago-based Lakeside Shakespeare Theatre. Recent television credits include the pilot episode of Mind Games and several appearances on Chicago Fire.
About Goodman Theatre
America’s “Best Regional Theatre” (Time magazine) and “Chicago’s flagship resident stage” (Chicago Tribune), Goodman Theatre is a not-for-profit organization distinguished by the quality and scope of its artistic programming and civic engagement. Founded in 1925, the Goodman is led by Robert Falls— “Chicago’s most essential director” (Chicago Tribune), who marks 30 years as Artistic Director this season—and Executive Director Roche Schulfer, who is celebrated for his vision and leadership over nearly four decades. Dedicated to new plays, reimagined classics and large-scale musical theater works, Goodman Theatre artists and productions have earned hundreds of awards for artistic excellence, including: two Pulitzer Prizes, 22 Tony Awards, nearly 160 Jeff Awards and more. Over the past three decades, audiences have experienced more than 150 world or American premieres, 30 major musical productions, as well as nationally and internationally celebrated productions of classic works (including Falls’ productions of Death of a Salesman, Long Day’s Journey into Night, King Lear and The Iceman Cometh, many in collaboration with actor Brian Dennehy). In addition, the Goodman is the first theater in the world to produce all 10 plays in August Wilson’s “American Century Cycle.” For nearly four decades, the annual holiday tradition of A Christmas Carol has created a new generation of theatergoers.
The 2016 opening of the Alice Rapoport Center for Education and Engagement (“the Alice”) launched the next phase in the Goodman’s decades-long commitment as an arts and community organization dedicated to educating Chicago youth and promoting lifelong learning. Programs are offered year-round and free of charge. Eighty-five percent of the Goodman’s youth program participants come from underserved communities.
Goodman Theatre was founded by William O. Goodman and his family in honor of their son Kenneth, an important figure in Chicago’s cultural renaissance in the early 1900s. The Goodman family’s legacy lives on through the continued work and dedication of Kenneth’s family, including Albert Ivar Goodman, who with his late mother, Edith-Marie Appleton, contributed the necessary funds for the creation of the new Goodman center in 2000.
Today, Goodman Theatre leadership includes the distinguished members of the Artistic Collective: Brian Dennehy, Rebecca Gilman, Henry Godinez, Dael Orlandersmith, Steve Scott, Chuck Smith, Regina Taylor, Henry Wishcamper and Mary Zimmerman. Joan E. Clifford is Chair of Goodman Theatre’s Board of Trustees, Cynthia K. Scholl is Women’s Board President and Justin A. Kulovsek is President of the Scenemakers Board for young professionals.
Visit the Goodman virtually at GoodmanTheatre.org—including OnStage+ for insider information—and on Twitter (@GoodmanTheatre), Facebook and Instagram.
It’s not often a theatre company tackles two Pulitzer Prize winning plays in one season, but Steppenwolf is doing just that. While you may grow a long white beard waiting to see the 2016 winner, "Hamilton," Steppenwolf has 2014 and 2015 covered with "The Flick" and "Between Riverside and Crazy." Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis' work was last seen at the Steppenwolf in 2012 with "The Motherf@cker with the Hat." He won the 2015 Pulitzer for "Between Riverside and Crazy."
"Between Riverside and Crazy" is largely similar to "The Motherf@cker with the Hat," in that it deals with issues of addiction and inequality. "Riverside" tells the story of Walter (Eamonn Walker) who's a retired cop with one of the last rent controlled apartments in a nice part of Manhattan. The catch is that he's hopelessly waiting for a settlement from the city because he was shot by another officer. Walter, or Pops, as he's called has a habit of taking in degenerates and trying to nurse them back to health. He forgives people of their sins and keeps company with thieves and whores, sound familiar?
Guirgis' play couldn't come about at a more topical time. Though, when thinking of an ethics tale about a police shooting, most would have a different notion of how the author would address issues of race. Guirgis is unflinchingly realistic, with the point being that nobody is perfect. The space between right and wrong seems to be too narrow for this play, as are most instances in life. What he does well is set characters up to appear one way, only to cynically devolve into what we're conditioned to assume.
Eamonn Walker impeccably leads this top-notch cast. He's able to embody the grizzled, but lovable character in such a natural way you'd think you've known him forever. Audrey Francis also stands out in her performance as Walter's former beat partner. She plays an unlikeable character with such sincerity that you almost forget she's not really on Walter's side. Lily Mojekwu is one of the show's best hidden gems. Her character, Church Lady, doesn’t enter until well into the second act, but her narrative propels the story to its conclusion. She's another character you want to trust, but if you've been in the real world long enough, you know better.
Yasen Peyankov's production of "Between Riverside and Crazy" is a slow building, but highly rewarding theatre experience on the same level as "Clybourn Park." Good for the Steppenwolf for forcing unpleasant issues in the face of middle class audiences. While some may leave the theater feeling as if their world views are affirmed, others will leave questioning their own morals.
Through August 21st at Steppenwolf Theatre. 1650 N Halsted St. 312-335-1650
“Look, We Are Breathing” at Rivendell Theatre is a powerful drama that deals with the coping of loss. Written by Chicago playwright Laura Jaccqmin, “Look, We Are Breathing” examines the grieving process when the one taken away so unexpectedly never really amounted to much nor has shown the potential to ever become much of anything at all. This is the case when high school hockey player Mike is killed in a drunk driving accident on his way home from a party. Always a troublemaker with a bad attitude, rude and the perennial class clown, Mike is disrespectful to his parents, his teachers and is one to take advantage of a girl’s innocence given the chance. He’s exactly what we don’t want to see in a teenage boy. Passing thoughts wonder if maybe the world would be a better place without someone like Mike.
This hard-hitting four-character play deals with the aftermath of Mike’s tragic accident. A series of flashbacks throughout the play help us get to know Mike while narratives from his English teacher Leticia, his mother Alice and his one-night stand, Caylee, provide us with more of an understanding of Mike’s behavior and the effect it had on those close to him – and those who wanted to be close to him.
The set is simplistic. A chest-like trunk sits center stage that is used at times for a dining table or a car when need be. But the sets simplicity in this case is a plus as it helps direct focus where it should be – on the characters and story. Cast members Lily Mojekwu (Leticia), Brennan Stacker (Caylee), Tara Mallen (Alice) and Brendan Meyer (Mike) make a special point of making eye contact with the audience members in this intimate thirty-six seat theatre, as they explain themselves and open up as though expecting comforting words in return.
This play works because of its absorbing story and the very heavy-duty acting performances by each and every cast member. “Look, We Are Breathing” is a gripping story that is sure to draw in the average theatre goer, and might relate especially to those who have suffered recent losses. Towards the play’s end Caylee talks about what could have been rather than reflecting on Mike’s past behavioral issues and lack of promise of any sort. Then we stop and think - Even when you question if someone's life is worth it, when they are young, they have no time to grow out of it – and that’s the truest tragedy. They have no time to grow up to be the ENT doctor, to build meaningful friendships, to become a loving parent or to contribute in making this world a better place. We learn compassion and empathy as we grow older and “Look” understands that rather than judging one’s short past.
True to their claim that Rivendell Theatre Ensemble is Chicago’s only Equity theatre dedicated to producing new work with women in core roles, “Look” presents three strong characters in a mourning mother, a girl who believes there was more to a relationship than there really was and a teacher who tries desperately to get through to a student who has built many walls.
“Look, We Are Breathing” is playing at Rivendell Theatre (5779 N Ridge Ave, Chicago) through May 16th. For tickets and/or more show information call 773-334-7728 or visit www.RivendellTheatre.org.
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