Chicago Theatre Review
David had only a stone
The Raid, a new play by Idris Goodwin
Is violence ever justifiable? Can words alone sponge a great evil out of the world, or must they be backed by bullets? So mull the ghosts of Idris Goodwin’s The Raid, an illumination of John Brown’s ill fated attack on Harpers Ferry. Conducted by The Emperor (Jared Bellot) an escaped slave and aid of Frederick Douglas (Warren Feagins) the ghosts of Brown’s people haunt an abandoned quarry, where once Brown (Ron Wells) and Douglas met, the one to urge the other to lend his voice and hand to a God-given mission and the start of a glorious war.
In the sinister shifting staging of Kaiser Zaki Ahmed, Goodwin’s eloquence, both in capturing the voices of these movers and shakers and illustrating the variety of paths America might have chosen in that laminar time, and Ahmed’s capturing of the violence the chosen course lead to. Goodwin’s white hot debates between Brown and Douglas, fiery zealotry hissing against cold reason, are superb playwriting, drawing the listener to the edge of the seat. Unfortunately, much of the dialog of the interactions of The Emperor with Brown’s twitchy secretary Henry Kagi (Daniel Desmarais) is lost or deflated by whispered or mumbled speaking. From what we can hear, these surrogate sons lack the driving argument of their mentors. And an encounter with a bounty hunter (Anthony Conway) at the quarry descends into silliness, for all the blood shed during it.
This is a story of great personalities and thankfully we are presented with actors to match them. Toya Turner as Brown’s prophet and confidant, Harriet Tubman, brings a much needed measure of poetry to the production, illustrating a side of the heroine we do not read about in school. Feagins perfectly captures Douglas’s eloquence and intercity, balancing his desire to protect his friend with his frustration at yet another white man who is telling him what to do. For his part Wells lives between the courteous cheer and taut rage, keeping Brown both charismatic and frightening.
The Raid bites off more than it can chew at times: inciting physical violence where verbal blows would more than suffice and stitching on more plot points then necessary (though the two cents cast by Mahala Doyle (Tracy Garrison), a widow by Brown’s hand is a fine touch). There are times when historical accuracy makes us loose sight of the central questions. But Goodwin’s preservation of these characters, the great and the small, always remain strong and The Emperor’s storytelling, the thoughts of a slave witnessing, and shaping, events to come, keep the fires of our interest well stoked.
Reviewed by Ben Kemper
Jackalope Theater Company
Broadway Armory Park 5917 N Broadway St. Chicago, off the Thorndale Redline stop.
Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30
100 minutes, no intermission.
For more information about this or other Chicago shows visit theaterinchicago.com.