Naima Dawson is a published author, Chicago playwright, and professor. Her career accomplishments cover more than 20 years in Arts Entertainment. Her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago and her Master of Education from DePaul University solidifies her ability to bridge the two worlds between Arts and Education. She is the writer and producer of Your Call! Late Night Improv & Sketch Comedy for Grown Folks, as seen in production at the Apollo Theater and The Mercury Theater.
Pictured: Geno Walker and Jay Worthington. Photo by Lara Goetsch.
By Naima Dawson
The art to capturing a fish is to know what type of fish you are going to be targeting. Every fish cannot be captured in the same manner. The process is quite complex, yet purposeful and calculated. Fish are often clueless to the fact that the dangling bait, with all its enticement, rarely comes with good intentions.
Brett Neveu’s TO CATCH A FISH is inspired by the true story of Chauncey Wright, a resident of Milwaukee Wisconsin, whose life is symbolic to that of a captured fish. He was intentionally baited by undercover Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agents to participate in illegal activities.
In Neveu’s telling, Terry Kilbourn, masterfully played by Geno Walker, is a mentally disabled African American young man who suffers from brain damage as a result of a childhood accident. Terry is befriended by who he believes to be local shop owners, who hire him to pass out flyers to promote their store. Unfortunately, Terry is unaware that he is doing more than shuffling in new business to this makeshift storefront.
Terry is not able to distinguish between people who mean him well and those with ill will. We come to understand his plight best through his family dynamic. He leads a rather simple life and is heavily protected by his grandmother Brenda Cameron, who still sees him as a helpless little boy. She is that old-school God-fearing Black woman hardened by life, neatly set in her ways. Linda Bright Clay’s cunning delivery makes her character quite compelling.
Brenda’s attention draws envy from Terry’s cousin Dontre, played by Al’Jaleel McGhee, who does a marvelous job providing the necessary balance to the dysfunction in this small family dynamic. Terry’s girlfriend Rochelle Walker (Tiffany Addison) is more of a protective mother figure, leading us to his vulnerability and complexity.
Director Ron OJ Parson brings this troubling story together flawlessly within a confined space perfectly designed by Regina Garcia, which provides the audience with a heightened sense of reality.
Initially, I left the theater wanting this play to have yelled and screamed inequality. I wanted it to grossly shame the ATF and those who covered up their malfeasance. However, as I settled in my thoughts, I realized that the power of the play is its subtleness, slowly unpacking the injustice served upon Terry Kilbourn, the mirror of real-life Chauncey Wright.
What is clear to the audience is that Terry wants nothing more out of life than for everyone to be all “good,” a catchphrase he uses when he is checking to make sure those he cares about are okay or in high spirits.
I cannot speak highly enough of Walker’s performance here. He visually articulates every little nuance of his character’s disabilities and is utterly convincing as he presents both the innocence and complexity of Terry. With such consistency and inevitability, Walker’s performance is the power behind the story.
TO CATCH A FISH is timely, shedding light on the blatant disregard for human rights that is becoming a repetitive occurrence, especially within the Black community. This play delivers a fresh perspective, reminding us that liberty and justice are not for all.
TO CATCH A FISH runs through July 1st. For more information visit timelinetheatre.com.