Chicago Theatre Review
The Progressive Republican
Carlyle – Goodman Theatre
As the election draws near and the Republican party seems poised to implode upon itself, Thomas Bradshaw has penned a very timely, provocative and somewhat controversial, satirical comedy that takes the form of a play-within-a-play. It unfolds as if it were a well-rehearsed, yet occasionally improvised entertainment, like something one would expect to see at Second City. As in improv, the ensemble cast is comprised of several talented actors playing multiple roles, with the exception of the title character and three other men and women. The premise of Bradford’s play is basically how Carlyle Meyers, a shrew, intelligent, observant African-American, with a keen sense of humor, evolved into becoming a staunch conservative Republican.
The 75-minute one-act is filled with most of the important moments in Carlyle’s life that shaped him into becoming the man he is today. It humorously attacks several conservative issues, such as welfare laws, the Right to Life, interracial relationships and marriage, gun control and the way some African-Americans feel the need to keep their political views quiet, especially if they’re conservatives. The topic of sexual harassment is attacked in a particularly humorous scene about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his much-publicized case against Anita Hill.
This play totally belongs to the charming and talented James Earl Jones, II. He plays Carlyle from young boy to adulthood and also serves as the emcee of this faux autobiographical play. As in so many other past roles, Mr. Jones is simply magnificent and the strongest reason for seeing this new play. We watch as Carlyle grows from grade school child to high school preppie, eventually heading off to a prestigious, Ivy League college. His loving, respectful relationship with his father, played by the brilliant Tim Edward Rhoze, is strong and admirable. A great of humor is mined through their exchanges about politics, history and life in general. Tiffany Scott plays Janice, Carlyle’s wife, with drive, jaunty spirit and the kind of intellectualism that becomes a turn-on for the aspiring politician. As Omar, Carlyle’s best friend, Levenix Riddle is funny, powerful and engaging, a character who’s always evolving with the times. The ensemble is equally competent, particularly Patrick Clear playing a variety of humorous, bumbling and confused older white men.
Benjamin Kamine, no stranger to directing Bradshaw’s plays, stages this production with sharp focus and a fast-paced, driving energy. Because of its specific timeliness, however, this play, as it’s now written, may not be produced much beyond this current election season. However, with some judicial revisions and updates, Bradshaw’s satire should become timeless. Know ahead of time that this is a play written for grownup audiences. It contains some very controversial, adult ideas and scenarios. It features drug use, some moments of violence, simulated sexual situations and a certain amount of profanity. However, as a political satire with bite, this is a production that isn’t afraid to take a stand play with it.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented April 11-May 1 by the Goodman Theatre in the Owen Theatre venue, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 312-443-3800 or by going to www.GoodmanTheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com