Women are yelling and screaming as their house goes up in flames. There is chaos as men and women run around onstage in a hectic frenzy. We’re not sure where to look as some people are fighting, some are embracing, and someone else is being dragged across the stage in a suitcase. This is only the beginning to MOTHER OF SMOKE - a show that thrives on making their audience feel the terror of displacement.
Collaboration between Red Tape Theatre and Walkabout Theater
MOTHER OF SMOKE is a play set in four different worlds and samples works from other authors - The Trojan Women, The Cherry Orchard, Chicago, and a post-fire world. Red Tape and Walkabout have created a multidisciplinary performance combining a barrage of images, music, and movement throughout the show.
From the initial scene frenzy of people rushing and yelling on stage, we are transported to Ancient Greece and the world of The Trojan Women. The village is being pillaged and we meet Andromache, princess of the fallen Troy. She is violently taken captive by Grecian warriors and we experience a forceful displacement. A chorus of Hecubas lament the loss of their homelands as a fire consumes their city.
We then segue to an actor telling us about the gentrification of Chicago. He tells us more and more people are being forced out of their homes in Pilsen because poor artists are moving into their neighborhood. This actor then transforms into a character from The Cherry Orchard. He tells the family they need to sell their orchard in order to pay off their debts, but the family refuses. Regardless, the orchard is sold and the family has no choice but to leave their home. In another transition sequence, the orchard goes up in flames and chaos ensues once more.
A Twist of Fate
After the “flames” have subsided, we are in a post-fire world. A lone woman stands on stage cupping a small ember in her hands. She places it in a pile of twigs and soon there is a bright fire. We are introduced to this new world run exclusively by women - they’ve recreated the world and are a prosperous nation. A group of men find the women and attempt to join the society, but end up disrupting the world instead. It’s a turn of fate as men previously displaced the women, but now the women have stood their ground and kept this world they’ve built.
A Message that Carries Across Time
Some who view this play might find it confusing without first consulting the program and discovering the different worlds MOTHER OF SMOKE is set in. However, extensive knowledge of the plays are not entirely necessary to understand the show’s message. We can infer the themes from The Trojan Women and The Cherry Orchard as they are placed side by side with a monologue about displacement in Chicago. We see how this theme is still relevant today in our city as it has been carried through plays from the past.
MOTHER OF SMOKE deals with themes of displacement, terror, and what would happen if the world were to hypothetically go up in smoke. You might feel frightened watching these worlds fall apart.
This show is a thought-provoker that will have you trying to decipher it as you walk out of the theater.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.
Friday, March 24 – Saturday, April 15
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays at 8:00pm
The Broadway at Pride Arts Center
4139 N. Broadway
Chicago, IL 60613