How do we begin to make up for the years of oppression on which this country is built?
This is a question many have asked, and increasingly more so as this country further examines the backgrounds of those in power across the board – politically, as well as organizations of all kinds – including the arts.
In his World Premiere, Playwright Kevin Douglas breaks down the complexities of that very question, and through a dark wit, invites the audience to come face to face with the challenges, as well as need, of finding a solution.
Plantation! at Lookingglass Theatre
Written by Lookingglass Ensemble Member Kevin Douglas and directed by Lookingglass Ensemble Member David Schwimmer, Plantation! follows Lillian Wright (brilliantly portrayed by the comedic Janet Ulrich Brooks), a wealthy cotton plantation owner in Texas. Upon researching some troubling family history about the treatment of slaves on the plantation in its early years, she comes to the conclusion that she should start making some apologies on behalf of her ancestors, and invites her three daughters to join her on the journey – Kimberly (Louise Lamson), Kara (Lindsey Page Morton), and Kayley (Grace Smith).
At first, all seems normal – a mother invites her three daughters to dinner. However, a family gathering would be incomplete without a little drama. Not only did she reach out to her daughters, but she also invited three sisters to dinner - London (Lily Mojekwu), Sydney (Ericka Ratcliff), and Madison (Tamberla Perry). Who are these three? They are the descendants of a slave her family once owned, and Lillian’s intention is to sign the plantation over to them as a sincere apology for all of the pain her family caused. Not to give too much away, but her daughters are a little less than pleased to lose their inheritance, and everything rises to the surface over the course of the “authentic southern belle” dinner Lillian has planned for the occasion - complete with gorgeous gowns of the period from Lookingglass Ensemble Member and Costume Designer Mara Blumenfeld.
Bitingly Comedic Script
Douglas’ play invites the audience to consider some serious questions about the racism ingrained in America’s history and that has made its way into the present, which is certainly not an easy subject to tackle. Rather than hitting his audience over the head with it, he eases them in with dark, but hilarious comedy, which Schwimmer and the stellar ensemble help bring to life through a fast-paced production and precise comedic timing.
Diana Soto (Hannah Gomez) is Lillian’s maid, and Gomez plays the dead-pan sarcastic humor with ease. As a person of color working for Lillian’s family on the plantation, Douglas places a good deal of the play’s commentary on racism within Soto’s jokes, which certainly presents a challenge for the actor. However, Gomez walks the sensitive line perfectly, and the comedic timing appropriately encourages laughter in the audience, while also shedding light on the questionable elements of Lillian’s choices in her attempt at “apology,” which invites a slight cringing to follow.
Douglas seems to base each character off of an overarching stereotype or characteristic – like Kimberly’s selfish and entitled nature, Kara’s ignorance, London’s overwhelmingly positive attitude as a Life Coach, and Sydney’s aggression as an activist. The ensemble as a whole brings out that element in an authentic manner, adding life and substance to these stereotypes and inviting the audience to, perhaps unwillingly, relate.
While the characterization may seem simplistic, the choice to boil down each character to their primary trait not only feeds into the comedy, but also cleverly helps convey the underlying message. Through the humor, Douglas points a finger at each of the reasons hidden in his characters that we as a society are stuck in finding a “solution” to the current power structures. While there are individuals like Lillian who may think they are solving everything through an apology, that is simply only one step, and not quite large enough to cover the complexities of the issue.
To add further complexity, Douglas is careful not to paint one side as “good” and the other “evil.” It is easy to want to side with the three sisters – their distant grandmother was a slave who was kept far too long at the plantation, and the idea of signing it over to them seems fair on a certain level. On the other side, it is easy to hate a character like Kimberly, who stops at nothing to dissuade the newcomers from taking the property, even taking some drastic and terrifying measures. However, at the root of the issue, Kimberly is simply afraid of losing her home and everything she holds dear.
Louise Lamson expertly brings that conflict to life. This reviewer does not want to reveal the ending, but while Kimberly makes some unforgivable choices in her attempt to save her inheritance, Lamson also infuses the character with a certain honesty that allows the audience to understand her selfish motives, even if not agree. Douglas cleverly highlights the ways in which both sides can be sympathized in a thought-provoking and creative fashion.
Bold wit and stellar acting make Plantation! a must-see event, with questions that will stick with you for days.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Playing through April 22, 2018
Wednesdays at 7:30pm
Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays at 7:30pm
Saturdays at 2:00pm and 7:30pm
Sundays at 2:00pm and 7:30pm
Run Time: 95 minutes, without intermission.
Lookingglass Theatre Company
821 N. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.