Theatre Review by Rebecca Curl
4 out of 4 stars
Goodman Theatre has truly outdone themselves with this magnificent world premiere production of playwright Charles Smith’s Objects in the Mirror. Directed by Chuck Smith and developed through the Goodman’s New Stages Festival, Objects in the Mirror follows a young Liberian refugee’s journey towards hope and new beginnings in modern-day Australia. Based on the true story of Liberian refugee, Shedrick Yarkpai, this production explores identity and the cost of our own survival as audiences follow Shedrick through the most turbulent and troubling times of his life. Objects in the Mirror dares to explore emotionally, politically, and culturally controversial topics that others have avoided in the past; no stone is left unturned, no matter how tragic and disturbing the outcome.
Chicago actor Daniel Kyri brings Shedrick Yarkpai to life as he makes his Goodman debut. Kyri’s ability to connect so deeply to Yarkpai’s story is incredibly impressive—that level of emotional intensity requires a strong commitment to not only the production, but also to the human being behind the production. Through his portrayal of Shedrick Yarkpai, Kyri opens audience members’ eyes to a disturbing world many know nothing about. If Kyri had not poured his heart and soul out for the audience to see, the impact his performance had may not have been possible. It is one thing to tell a story to an audience, but the ability to truly engage an audience and thrust them into the story with you is truly remarkable. Hopefully, Kyri’s outstanding performance is one that will help him become a permanent fixture on the Goodman stage.
Objects in the Mirror also focuses deeply on the idea of family and personal identity. Portraying Shedrick’s uncle John Workolo is Allen Gilmore, who plays an integral part in Shedrick’s story. Gilmore captures both the adventurous and serious sides of Uncle John, and his character thus becomes one that many of us can recognize in our own lives. Often our family members will do whatever it takes to save us from the worst the world has cast upon us, but though they may have the best intentions, our own desires can sometimes be overlooked. Gilmore’s performance is an emotionally driven one, which is sure to tug at the heart strings of many audience members. He teaches us what unconditional love looks like, while also warning of the dangers of allowing another to control your life too heavily. Gilmore teaches us through his portrayal of Uncle John that love is certainly strong, but love is not always right.
Another outstanding performance was given by Lily Mojekwu, who played Shedrick’s mother, Luopu Workolo. Mojekwu’s performance was a strong, yet poignant one. Her unconditional love for Shedrick was apparent, but through her character, we are taught that sometimes loving someone really does mean you have to let them go. Such an important, personal message requires a strong delivery, and Mojekwu certainly did not disappoint. Breon Arzell portrayed Shedrick’s cousin Zaza Workolo, who gave a chilling performance as he showed us what happens when we choose danger over patience. Arzell’s ability to transform before our eyes from a happy-go-lucky teen to a man who is willing to do anything to survive is outstanding, thus giving his performance the weight it needs to really hit close to home for audience members. Ryan Kitley plays Shedrick’s new Australian friend, Rob Mosher, and he also provides audience members a lesson on the true meaning of family. His impressive performance teaches us that family does not always mean you are bound together through blood—sometimes those who care for us most are the people we meet along the way. Through each actor’s spectacular, emotionally gripping performance, audience members are taught a different lesson about family, identity, and our natural instinct to survive.
Setting the scene for the actors’ outstanding performances were the design team’s well-executed and equally haunting designs. From Riccardo Hernandez’s impressive use of moving scenery to chronicle Shedrick’s journey to Birgit Rattenborg Wise’s perfect choice of costumes to suit the personality, struggle, and identity of each character, this design team created the foundation for the actors to grow and thus teach with. The combination of Mike Tutaj’s projection design, John Culbert’s lighting design, and Ray Nardelli’s sound design created a multitude of beautiful, poignant moments, which would not have had the same level of emotional impact without their art. Creating a well-rounded production from the cast to the design team is not always an easy task, so it is refreshing to see Objects in the Mirror do so impeccably well.
Chicago should feel blessed to be able to welcome the story of Shedrick Yarkpai into our theatre community. His ability to persevere through times that would have broken most of us is inspiring, and through his journey, we can all learn the real value of always being true to ourselves. Yarkpai and playwright Charles Smith teach us that despite the trials and tribulations we may face in our daily lives, we can always come back home to ourselves. “Home” in the traditional sense may no longer exist, but within ourselves, we can always find comfort and peace.
Objects in the Mirror is a must-see, especially with the current state of our country and world. There is never a time that we cannot learn something new, and it is about time that we all open our eyes to the atrocities occurring across the globe, while also looking within to finally realize the pain we are putting ourselves through.
Objects in the Mirror is running now through June 4 (Tuesdays-Sundays) in Goodman Theatre’s Albert Theatre. Tickets are available at Goodman Theatre’s box office (170 N. Dearborn), by phone at 312.443.3800, or through their website: GoodmanTheatre.org/Objects. For more information, please visit www.theatreinchicago.com.
Rebecca Curl is a freelance wig and make-up artisan and writer based in Chicago. She recently received her BFA in Wig and Make-up Design and an English Minor from The Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University. Follow her on Twitter!