Poem Jewels of A WONDER IN MY SOUL
Returning to our seats after intermission, gravely voiced Jacqueline Williams, who plays one of the leading roles of Bell Grand Lake, draws us in with a sonnet that is a deep sea dive into all dimensions of Black hair memory. This is a pearl of a poem from playwright Marcus Gardley that immediately creates a craving for reading it again and lingering with it.
One hopes that this lamentation on hair will become a staple of spoken word celebrations of Black History Month in the schools. Truth to tell, Williams is so magnetic that one suspects she could also read the 30-day forecast and we’d similarly be transfixed.
Williams had been given another searing solo in the play’s first half—a lamentation on the sources of strength for Black women. This too is a standalone treasure.
Greta Oglesby—A Great Match to Williams’ Star Power
Williams has her match in Greta Oglesby playing Aberdeen Calumet, Bell’s friend since childhood and co-owner of the South Side beauty salon that we learn at the outset is about to be foreclosed. The story is laced with her character’s flashbacks of key moments in their friendship and shared history.
Gardley's script gives Oglsesby’s character the task of opening the show, seeming to systematically part the curtains in front of that fourth wall inviting us in. Here too, a pearl of a moment enlivened with no shortage of charisma from this very able actress.
Jeffery Owen Freelong Jr. as Lafayette, the wayward yet adored son, also gets his spoken word soliloquy gem.
Situation More than Dramatic Tension
Pearls that these are—and other endearing moments from the comic lines of Linda Bright Clay playing a well-heeled Black Republican who frequents the salon quite often—they are jewels that remain unstrung like pieces of a broken necklace kicking about in a too big box instead of adorning a queen’s neck as their beauty merits. This is a script that is all about story setup. Dramatic tension is in short supply.
Donica Lynn and Camille Robinson can’t break past their miscasting against type in this production. These are actually two actresses whose extraordinary talents we have seen and deeply admired in other productions—especially Lynn’s singing in Dreamgirls and Robinson in a wide range of roles at American Blues Theater, Windy City Playhouse, and more.
Captures the Zeitgeist
That said, A Wonder In My Soul—Sisterhood, Music and Damn Good Hair is a solid pick for everyone who savors scenes that capture the zeitgeist of the moment. We are on the South Side. Obama is about to be elected. It’s the final hour when Starbucks and other commercial chains totally vanquish the small Black-owned businesses that had been the motherlode of community and sustenance for prior generations. Gardley’s script gives audience members a finely detailed Google Map street view of that place and time. If you feel deep nostalgia for those better times on the South Side, this is your show.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.
Through March 12, 2017
Tuesday — Friday at 7:30pm
Saturday at 3pm and 7:30pm
Sunday at 3:00pm.
Word for Word (open caption) performances Friday, February 24 at 7:30pm, Saturday, February 25 at 3:00pm, and Wednesday, March 1 at 2:00pm
Audio Description performances Friday, February 24 at 7:30pm (Touch tour at 6:00pm), Sunday, March 5 at 3:00pm (Touch tour at 1:30pm)
ASL Interpreted and Word for Word (open caption) performance Friday, February 24 at 7:30pm.
Victory Gardens Biograph Theater
2433 N. Lincoln Avenue