Chicago Theatre Review
The Subtleties of Race Thrillingly Explored in Stage Left’s ‘Firestorm’
The Firestorm – Stage Left
“The Firestorm,” a world-premiere play from the always excellent Stage Left Theatre Company, is thrilling in ways that the very best Chicago theater provides – intimate, thought provoking, and above all else, honest.
The story of an interracial power couple – the husband, Patrick, is a candidate for governor of Ohio, while his wife, Gaby, is a highly successful attorney – “The Firestorm” begins simply, even harmlessly enough, with Patrick coasting through a comfortable lead, debating strategies with Leslie, a savvy member of his campaign, and enjoying evenings with his equally intelligent (and ambitious) wife. Yet, just when everything seems to be going according to plan, a racially charged moment from Patrick’s past surfaces, threatening to derail both his campaign and marriage.
To reveal that moment, and the implications it has for Patrick’s entire political and intellectual infrastructure, would rob the play of its impact, so I’ll refrain from any spoilers. I will say, though, that “The Firestorm” is yet another Chicago play that gets race right. Written with great sensitivity by Meredith Friedman, directed with fine precision by ensemble member Drew Martin, and passionately acted by Vance Smith, Kanome Jones, Melanie Derleth, and David Lawrence Hamilton, “The Firestorm” boldly exposes the two central hypocrisies of race in today’s climate: first, that any honest dialogue on race relations is impossible amidst our ceaseless, poll-driven election cycles; and second, that underlining those cycles is a general ignorance among White America on the realities of what African Americans, no matter their socioeconomic status, face on a daily basis; the problem today is not segregated water fountains, but the cluelessness to how casual racism – not matter how implicit or mob driven – can paint the contours of one’s life in ways the violating party never anticipated. We need plays like “The Firestorm” to bring those differences to the surface.
It is also worth mentioning how meticulous “The Firestorm” is in its construction. Only 90 minutes long with no intermission, the play separates each scene with a stark metaphor – one of the characters, normally Patrick or Gaby, stand in the stage’s center, a bright light shining on them; the spotlight is on them, and we, the audience, are borderline voyeurs as their personal difficulties are cast about on the 24-hour news cycle. I was also impressed with the music that played during those interludes, which alternated between the spiritual reckoning of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” and, as Patrick’s life further unraveled, the chaos of Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew.”
After the play’s final scene, Vance Smith (who played Patrick), told the audience that Stage Left had been working on “The Firestorm” for two years. That time and care is apparent in the resulting play, and with two successful world premieres this year alone (the other being “Keys of the Kingdom” back in January), I am excited to see what Stage Left is preparing next.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented through Nov. 29 by Stage Left Theatre Company, staged at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont
Tickets are available by calling 773-883-8830 or by visiting www.stagelefttheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.