Editor’s Note: Read related interviews in the George Floyd: In Memoriam roundup.
Sixteenth Street Theater Presents HIS SHADOW Review—Struggle of a Reluctant Hero, a Highly Recommended Chicago Best Play Pick
How much would you sacrifice to do the right thing? Maybe not much, if you were rational about it; a bit of money, some labor when you have time, but not your biggest life goals. Unless, that is, you’d somehow reached the limit of what you could tolerate. If it was up to Teeny, His Shadow: A Parable would be a sports drama centering on his rise to the top of his field through sheer grit and the inspiration his heroic leadership supplied to his sidekick teammates. But that’s not the play Chicago native Loy A. Webb has chosen for him at the 16th Street Theater’s world premiere. Inspired by the take-a-knee protests against racial bias in policing, this is the story of a man who very much did not want to be an activist.
The Kid Brother Seeks Recognition
Teeny (Charles Andrew Gardner) is nothing if not methodical. His big brother, Juice, he explains with swagger, is an NFL star and the sun of their small town. He’s the social activist, philanthropist, and all-around good guy who gave Teeny his gloves after his first college touch-down. Juice is known for playing through injuries and is so big he always sucks the entire room into his orbit. But Teeny, so called because of his height, was not made to be a quarterback. The only college that took him was a no-name school in the Middle of Nowhere, where he is doomed to live in his brother’s shadow. But that’s alright; Teeny has a plan to take command of this team, drill harder than ever before, and sacrifice all other distracting human relationships to finally prove himself a man in his own right. Somebody else can rabble-rouse over the townie who was killed in a botched police raid; that’s the sort of thing that takes your head out of the game. But just because Teeny’s not interested in social issues doesn’t mean they’re not interested in him.
Versatile Actors Populate the Fable
Only three actors bestride the 16th Street’s Berwyn basement stage. As Teeny, Gardner is a wiry coil of ambition, but he clearly has a big heart. Teeny wants to impress his brother as much as beat him, and he works hard to improve the determination of his teammate and best friend, Kodak. Marcus D. Moore plays Kodak, Juice, and all the other male characters. He’s funny, warm, and his bonding with Teeny is a delight. Teeny makes a good case for why winning in their division is a worthwhile goal, and it’s easy to get swept up in it. In a lot of ways, Kodak needs this victory even more than Teeny. But there’s a third presence onstage, Anna Dauzvardis as the activist Rain Monroe and all the other women. Director Julius Wardell Clark keeps her center stage during key moments, a prophetess and inescapable moral call, but just as human as everyone else.
16th Street Theater Unfolds into a Coliseum
Although the design team effectively implies the vast forces at work (a stadium full of screaming fans, national news broadcasts), Webb’s script is tightly focused on character. We get a sense from Dauzvardis of how much Rain’s struggle has taken a toll on her, and how much faith and pride one needs to continue with an endless, thankless slog. And because of that, we better understand Teeny’s hesitation to surrender his own identity to it. One of the conceits Webb uses is that Teeny and Rain are from a planned African-American community named after Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who raised the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics. And while Teeny finds that admirable, it’s also a tale he’s sick of hearing and feels stifled by. His Shadow is a coming of age story that doesn’t follow the standard format. It’s one that requires the hero to readjust his values and doesn’t promise a reward for self-sacrifice. It’s also ideally fitted for 16th Street’s no-frills venue and a testament to how full a story can be told with little more than a few humans in a room.
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.
Charles Andrew Gardner (Teeny), Marcus D. Moore (Kodak/Man), Anna Dauzvardis (Rain/Woman)
Loy A. Webb (Playwright), Wardell Julius Clark (Director), Sydney Lynne (scenic), David Goodman-Edberg (lights), Barry Bennett (sound), Jos N. Banks (costumes), Hillarie M. Shockley (properties)
Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30 PM
Saturdays at 4:00 and 8:00 PM
Run time is ninety minutes.
Sundays 9/22 and 10/19 at 3pm
16th Street Theater
6420 16th Street in Berwyn
Free parking one block west in lot at 16th
and Gunderson across from Lincoln School
About the Author: Jacob Davis
Jacob Davis has lived in Chicago since 2014 when he started writing articles about theatre, opera, and dance for a number of review websites. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Theatre, where he specialized in the history of modernist dramatic literature and criticism. While there, he interned as a dramaturge for Dance Heginbotham developing concepts for new dance pieces. His professional work includes developing the original jazz performance piece The Blues Ain’t a Color with Denise LaGrassa, which played at Theater Wit. He has also written promotional materials for theatre companies including Silk Road Rising.
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