Erin Shea Brady is a contributing writer and critic at PerformInk and Newcity Stage. Directing credits include: Everybody (Brown Paper Box Co.) and Cabaret, Annapurna (staged reading) and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (No Stakes Theater Project). Erin has assistant directed and dramaturged productions at the Goodman, Jackalope, TimeLine, A Red Orchid, Northlight, and Remy Bumppo. Erin is a graduate of the directing program at Columbia College Chicago, the internship program at Steppenwolf, Jackalope's inaugural Playwright's Lab, and participated in the Goodman's Criticism in a Changing America bootcamp. Erin is a company member with Brown Paper Box Co. and is currently pursuing her MSW at Loyola.
Charlette Speigner (Ensemble), Patrick Clear (Ensemble), Levenix Riddle (Omar), Tiffany Scott (Janice), James Earl Jones II (Carlyle Meyers), Tim Edward Rhoze (Carlyle’s Father), Nate Whelden(Ensemble) and Maureen Gallagher (Ensemble) in CARLYLE. Photo: Liz Lauren
True theatrical immediacy can be hard to come by. Plays take time to write, produce, and rehearse – it can be a challenge to keep them fresh and resonant, especially when they tackle major social and political issues.
Often, theatermakers rise to this challenge by telling stories that are “timeless”. We examine a recurring central question in a new way – a way that reacts to the current social or political climate, but maybe indirectly. This theater can be really powerful, but in as volatile an election year as this, I’m often hungry for plays that directly engage in conversation about the here and now.
In the Goodman’s CARLYLE, playwright Thomas Bradshaw and director Benjamin Kamine have created a refreshing, provocative, and immediate theatrical experience. The play literally begins backstage at the Goodman Theater in Chicago, IL and is told through a lens that we don’t see a lot in the liberal American theater. Our protagonist is the fictional African-American lawyer Carlyle Meyers (James Earl Jones II), who spends much of the play struggling with his identity, from youth to adulthood. He eventually finds that “where he fits” is deep in the Republican Party.
Watching this play is a complicated experience – some scenes are more obviously satirical than others. In Jones’ hands, we like Carlyle. We get him. He’s funny. We’re with him for much of the play, until we discover that one of his heroes is Clarence Thomas, until he uses a woman’s right to choose as a pick-up line, until we hear his stance on gun control. I can’t speak to the experience of a conservative watching this play, but I would venture to say that it’s just as provocative.
Kamine’s expert direction is playful until it’s not. The scenes are perfectly punctuated by Heather Gilbert’s lighting design and Christopher Kriz’s sound. We move swiftly between the defining and resonant moments in Carlyle’s life. Rachel Healy’s costume design allows the talented acting ensemble to play multiple characters each, and they do so with lively commitment. Levenix Riddle, Charlotte Speigner, and Tiffany Scott, in particular, bring a ton of energy to the piece.
This is a play to make us laugh and think and question. It asks the audience to engage, and we willingly comply. Some audience members at Monday night’s show couldn’t wait until the play was over to speak up. The actors feed off the audience energy and vice versa. This piece, I’m sure, will be different every night.
Theater this resonant doesn’t come around often. Catch it while you can.
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