"truth and reconciliation" by Sideshow Theatre Company

"truth and reconciliation" by Sideshow Theatre Company

Theater Review by Mary Crylen

3 out of 4 stars

South Africa, Northern Ireland, Rawanda, Bosnia and Zimbabwe. Five devastating conflicts, thirty years, one room and one burning question: can reconciliation be found when the reluctant truth is finally spoken? Twenty-two actors bring Debbie Tucker Green’s sixty-minute unblinking exploration of loss to life. Stories from across the world weave together in a search for justice, as victims and perpetrators alike struggle for meaning in the aftermath of crime. truth and reconciliation delves deep into a shared collective unconscious through fairly recent historical events. 

Tiffany Renee JohnsonTravis DelgadoKeith Surney and Bradford Stevens with the cast of Sideshow Theatre Company’s U.S. premiere of truth and reconciliation. Photo by Jonathan L. Green.

Yu Shibagaki magnifies tensions built over years of conflict in one barren room containing only chairs and benches lining the walls. All twenty-two actors continuously onstage observing from the sidelines the interactions and conversations happening in each country. This single run down old school room suggestively placed in Africa paints a haunting timeline that encompasses strife in a state of limbo. Peeling powers and crude drawings litter the walls with slogans of anger and war cries. White painted locations and dates graffiti on pillars light up and pair with each piece of conversation happening around the central 4 chairs. A beautiful interaction of set and light. The lighting design by Jared Gooding, who hold credits such as Lookingglass Alice (associate designer, Lookingglass) and The Wiz Live (light assistant, NBC), also includes high slatted windows of the far wall streaming in “outside” light and varies the times of day. This added an additional resonates to each story and the context of every tragic situation. Hats off to Gabrielle Randle and her dramaturgy for this production! The close attention to assisting in costume design, by Noel Huntzinger, not only identifying by era, but style based on where we are in the world was subtle and very effective. Clear distinctions are made in the simple clothing choices that often go unnoticed in one-act productions that are so heavily based on dialogue. 

Éamonn McDonaghJennifer MathewsJeremy Pfaff and Ann James with the cast of Sideshow Theatre Company’s U.S. premiere of truth and reconciliation. Photo by Jonathan L. Green.

The profound effect these encounters have had on women over the years is a stark highlight of these violent events. The palpable female point of view in each scenario illustrates frustration, blame, and pain. Mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, friends and strangers bring these events across the shores close to the heart. What is the woman’s role in all this tragedy? The victim? The cause? The tactical use of repeated questions relentlessly abrasive ends without conclusion. What did he say? Mama, will you sit? Will I be the first to talk? Did anyone applaud? Did you get your spine from him, love? Ann James, Northern Irish Woman, gives a spine chilling performance as two mothers meet about their sons. No hesitation in the blood-boiling pain a mother feels when her child is a part of violence. Will you sit down or stay standing? The place full of people strung together by the thread of conflict. People on trial for the external events thrust upon their lives. The trials are constant and unforgiving. Roles are distinct through well thought-out blocking. A constant rotation of individuals flow fluidly and meld together in the shadowy sidelines while the center is deemed a boxing ring of emotions. Netta Walker (South African Sister) astounds with opening the play with staring at the audience center stage. A commanding gaze filled with fire. Walker unabashedly confronts her story in history with a compelling raw innocence. A full circle of pain and no resolution. These stories of suffering and hate are interwoven in history of man. The violence repeating over the years – a vicious circle. Hailing the communal experience, artistic director Jonathan L. Green highlights empathy and questions this cycle of pain into one room. With a wide repertoire and long standing position as artistic director of Sideshow Theatre since its inception in 2007, Green forces the audience to reevaluate conflict and leave the theater contemplating the current state of affairs the world is in and our part in it. Will we sit down or stay standing?

truth and reconciliation will be playing at Victory Gardens Theater now through Sunday, April 16th, 2017. Tickets are available at victorygardens.org, by calling 773/871-3000 or in person at the Victory Gardens Box Office at 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. To learn more about Sideshow Theatre Company, please visit sideshowtheatre.org.

Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with dual degrees in English and Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!