The stage of American Blues Theater’s production of ROAN @ THE GATES is divided in two, each side representing two nations an ocean away from each other—America and Russia.
Before all of that comes into play, however, what matters most is the love-filled marriage of Nat (Jasmine Bracey) and Roan (Brenda Barrie), a fireball attorney and NSA agent, respectively. In their bedroom, their mattress is adorned by crushed velvet and cotton blue bedding, and the walls have a rustic yet modern aesthetic with wood trim and slate gray tiling. And while Roan feels ill and Nat is still reeling from her day, the couple basks in each other’s company.
We are so launched into the realities and specificities of these character’s lives—Nat is open about each and every action of her day, and Roan, as per usual, plays things close to the chest—that we may feel like we are simply sitting across the bedroom from them. Their passionate dynamic alone could make a compelling storyline. But alas.
From here the story develops quickly, a plus for theatre-goers who like productions to go somewhere big and get there fast.
Within a 30-second scene change, with red flashing background lighting and a sketchy overhead wire lamp being lowered from the ceiling, we are transported to Russia. Stemming from Roan’s work collecting data for the U.S. government, she ends up marooned in the security closet of a Russian airport.
Here, along with her wife who flew across the world to see her, their lives change drastically and permanently.
American Blues Theater puts us in paranoia whirlwind
We are in a 75-minute whirlwind of paranoia and raw emotion. The storyline is set to reflect the real fears of American citizens in 2020. We get mired in government data mining—the very project Roan “perfected” before being blacklisted. We are overcome with fear of skewed media coverage, living through the experience of our two characters as news stations in both America and Russia spin a web of lies enclosing Roan in the middle of them.
“Let me be your advocate”
As the story unfolds, homophobia and racism both play their hand—and we get a glimpse of how these issues play out in the drastically different American and Russian societies. Nat says, “Imagine what they would do to me?” if she too had to move to Russia, where support for LGBTQ+ members is few and far between, not to mention that her skin color is not “translucent,” as her wife would put it.
If you are looking for escapism entertainment, perhaps ROAN @ THE GATE may not be for you. The production strikes this reviewer as very timely, as the United States grapples with its own socio-political nightmares. If subjects of realism, inclusivity, and urgency are of interest to you, catch American Blues Theater’s latest production while you can.
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
Title: Roan @ The Gates
Written By: Christina Telesca Gorman
Directed by: Lexi Saunders
Brenda Barrie (Roan) and Jasmine Bracey (Nat).
Sarah E. Ross (scenic), Jared Gooding (lighting), Lily Walls (costumes), Eric Backus (composer / sound), Amanda Barth (props), Charlie Baker (intimacy), and Shandee Vaughan (production & stage manager)
Through February 29, 2020
Thursdays: 7:30 p.m.
Fridays: 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays: 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Sundays: 2:30 p.m.
1225 W. Belmont Ave.
About the Author:
Margaret Smith is a writer, editor, and critic achieving her B.A. from Columbia College Chicago. Having migrated from small-town Illinois, she now dwells in Chicago with a curious eye for art and a penchant for commentary. When not putting pen to paper, you might catch her about the city sipping coffee and filling in crossword puzzles.