City Lit Theater Has Uncanny Timing
It’s difficult to begin talking about Voice of Good Hope without noting the uncanny timing of the production’s press opening. True, City Lit season planners could have easily noted the eve before Martin Luther King Day, knowing how the script conveys how Jordan was of that same time and moral temperature as King. But, how could they have predicted it would also be the weekend before formal impeachment of Trump begins, so awakening memories in the gray hair crowd of Nixon’s unraveling and Barbara Jordan’s role in it?
Actress Andrea Conway-Diaz, working against type, opens the play by summoning Jordan’s words, “My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total…” These words, along with Molly Ivins’ obituary for Jordan reprinted in the program, made some of us want to weep with bittersweet nostalgia for a time when principles were battled, instead of alternative facts.
Playwright Kristine Thatcher’s script—albeit, in this writer’s view, screaming for an editor or director’s knife—teaches us not only about Jordan, but of the times—then and now. We see her verbal jousting with Democratic Party Chair Robert Strauss (Paul Chakrin), who wrangled her to be a character witness for Democratic Party turncoat and anti-civil rights Governor John Connolly. In a long and drawn out scene with her grandfather (Jamie Black) we meet young Jordan (MiKayla Boyd), presumably receiving a pivotal life lesson to use intellect and to not pre-judge White people. And then, in a scene that startles with its relevance to today, we see Jordan with one of her former students (Noelle Clyce), playing out Jordan’s collision course with younger activists with more of a Black Power frame of mind. On Martin Luther King Day, this scene especially reminds of how both Jordan and King were dismissed by the younger African-American generation. How curious to be reminded of this, as this now older generation of African-Americans are so consistently reported to cling to the safer Joe Biden, while their more radical offspring yearn for Bernie, or Warren, or Castro.
If you remember Jordan vividly, as this writer does, you will likely be struck by how Conway-Diaz summons us to see an elegance Jordan had, that we might not recall as vividly as her stentorian voice. Real-world Jordan is a tough act to follow, and this dimension is a welcome interpretation, even for those of us whose Jordan memory is so much more of the voice she used to stop us in our tracks. Thatcher’s script, and especially the scene with Strauss, gives us a chance also to marvel at Jordan’s playful side that many of us didn’t know that she had. As the scotch flows, Conway-Diaz and Chakrin are pitch perfect, timing lines and antics precisely.
Those born long after Jordan’s time will likely need to come armed with a deep interest and appreciation for history, that will let you better appreciate the meat of Thatcher’s script. If you too were alive in Jordan’s time, and cherish memories of her towering stature, even from wheelchair height, just come knowing this play is anything but an entertaining escape from today’s headlines.
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
Andrea Conway-Diaz (Barbara Jordan), Susie Griffith (Nancy Earl), Sahara Glasener-Boles (Karen Woodruff), Jamie Black (John Ed Patten), Paul Chakrin (Robert Strauss), Noelle Klyce (Julie Dunn); and McKennzie Boyd and MiKayla Boyd, who will alternate as “Heart” – Barbara Jordan as a child.
Ray Toler (Set Designer), Daniel Salazar (Lighting Designer), Katy Vest (Costume Designer), Hazel Marie Flowers-McCabe (Stage Manager), Carolyn Minor (Production Manager)
Through February 23, 2020
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm
Sundays at 3 pm.
Mondays February 10 and 17 at 7:30 pm
City Lit Theater,
1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.
Chicago 60660 (Inside Edgewater Presbyterian Church)