Chicago Theatre Review
Ohio Sate Murders at Dandelion Theater
Famed African American writer Suzanne Alexander (Renee Lockett) has a ghost to face. Asked to speak at her semi-Alma Matter of Ohio State about her time there in the 1950’s, she has also been explicitly asked to address the violent nature of her own stories and plays. An odd question of a theatrical institution that treated its now favored daughter so shabbily. In her lectures covering with her younger self (Danielle Thorsen) Alexander recounts her Harding-esqe journey from bright eyed maid to a woman marred by a brutal pair of racial murders on the campus.
As part Adrienne Kennedy’s Alexander Plays, a collection of semi-surreal semi-autobiographical works from Kennedy’s/Suzanne’s life the Ohio State Murders is a puzzling reverie. Essentially one long monologue (Suzanne was asked to give a speech, so a speech she shall give) it is illustrated by actors drifting on to give a reading of pertinent classic text, give a few lines as a character witness, or simply prove, by action, that they existed, before floating out again. The story is also highly nonlinear, jumping all over the four years of her association with the school. One minute we talk we follow a lonely girl with a love of literature, isolated by her race in her freshman year, then, in blink, we’re two years later, as that same girl is ground under investigation. The sensation is like taking a ramble in a melancholy woods and then sinking one leg above the knee in a post hole, and unable to get out again
This may float your boat or it may not. The story is a ramble, slow and winding, but the brutal loss Suzanne suffers curdles the blood, and saddens the spirit. Lockett and Thorssen have a nice report, the innocent and the master sharing smiles across the years, and the former can drip contempt for the institution that wronged her while serving it a cold casserole of recrimination, forty years after the fact. But not even she can enliven the story (which, in fairness, is written to excise the “drama” from a series of unfortunate events) can capture the evening. If you want a stomach clenched of sadness and grief, this is the dish to dine on.
Sadly, not recommended by Ben Kemper
Heartland Studio 7016 N. Glenwood Ave (Near Morse Red Line)
65 minutes, no intermission.
Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 3:00.
$20 Suggested donation
For more information visit www.dandeliontheatre.com or www.theaterinchicago.com