Chicago Theatre Review
Scenes of Confrontation
truth and reconciliation – Sideshow Theatre Company
This U.S. premiere of debbie tucker green’s 2011 epic play is a collective search for justice in the aftermath of several horrendous crimes. As with her own name, the playwright never uses capital letters, such as her Obie Award-winning “born bad,” which opened at Soho Rep, or other works, like “hang,” “stoning mary” and “laws of war,” most of which, like this play, had their first productions at London’s Royal Court Theatre.
An excellent ensemble of actors, directed by Sideshow’s artistic director, Jonathan Green, and tucked away into the intimate confines of Victory Gardens’ upstairs venue, this production is more a performance piece than a traditional play. The several stories presented are fragmented and overlap with each other. Collectively the piece interlaces moments that present the devastating personal effects of the world’s most brutal conflicts during the past 30 years. Most of the characters go unnamed, but that doesn’t matter in this portrayal of grief and guilt. The piece doesn’t seek to present the actual people or the conflicts themselves, but rather their aftermath. Years have passed and questions have gone unanswered. Ms. green’s work examines each character’s quest for the truth, blanketed by years of fear, frustration and fortitude. The agony over what actually happened to a friend, a family member or a child is palpable.
Set within a tiny room, with only a single door, and supported by thick, industrial columns, Yu Shibagaki liberally embellishes her scenic design with lots of wooden chairs and an explosion of graffiti, that sports the locations, dates and names from these recent world conflicts. They include the horrifying travesties in South Africa, Rwanda and Zimbabwe, as well as those in Bosnia and Northern Ireland. Noel Huntzinger’s costumes perfectly depict the class and nationality of the 22 different contemporary characters, and Eva Breneman’s achievement in perfecting such a wide variety of international dialects among her actors is masterful.
A family waits to speak with the Commission appointed to deal with their tragedy, but the mother refuses to sit until she’s given some information that’s real and personal. As in this episode, like most, the playwright often returns. Language is sparse, circuitous, repetitive and frustrating. It has the feel of an absurdist play, such as “Waiting for Godot.” Individuals pick at each other over unnecessary details because the cost of loss and devastation leaves only silences and spaces. Words achieve only so much under these circumstances. The mood is unsettled, tense, easily given to sudden bursts of anger, very nearly erupting into violence, but such a reaction would only be redundant.
There are many notable scenes of confrontation. They often make the theatergoer uncomfortably fidget in his seat, bite his fingernails and find his palms sweating. They include a volatile Irish woman flaring up when challenged to defend the actions and death of her son; a South African mother, staring at an empty chair, trying to describe the anguish of waiting years and years for some answers about her daughter’s death. A Rwandan man faces off against his murderer; a pregnant Bosnian woman encounters the men who raped and impregnated her; a widow confronts those responsible for the mutilation of her beloved husband; and an innocent little schoolgirl squares off against the man who put an end to her short life. The stories echo each other, but never offer solutions. Only more questions are raised. Ms. green hasn’t attempted to provide any sagely solutions, because none can be found.
Audiences will squirm in their seats and may even have to shut their eyes to the dozens of horrific images created by this theatrical piece. But theatergoers will never forget the experience. Even as, it seems, the rest of the world has forgotten these crimes against humanity and the dreadful, true events, these are moments still alive within the core of each character. Stories blend into each other. Some feel almost resolved, while others are left dangling without an end. The lack of completion reminds us that we’re witnessing, regrettably, a universal reoccurrence, from which there may be no escape.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented March 12-April 16 by Sideshow Theatre Company at the Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available in person at the Victory Gardens Box Office, by calling 773-871-3000 or by going to www.victorygardens.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.