The Bloodhound Law

By Kristine ThatcherBLOODHOUND-LAW

Directed by Terry McCabe

At City Lit Theater, Chicago

Chilling tales that ultimately lead to the American Civil War

In the fifth and final annual installment of its Civil War Sesquicentennial Project, City Lit Theater presents the world premiere of Kristine Thatcher’s The Bloodhound Law. Much like the right-wing anti-gay Evangelical Christians of  today, the pro-slavery faction in Missouri and Illinois resorted to mob actions including murder to silence the abolitionists newspapers in the 1830’s and up to the outbreak of the Civil War.

Thatcher’s drama begins with the pro-slave faction trying to silence crusading journalist Elijah Lovejoy (Christopher Kidder-Mostrom). After threats and a wrecked printing press, Lovejoy moved across the Mississippi River to free-state Alton, Illinois. But the rednecks there continued to assault Lovejoy and he continued to write about the evils of slavery. In 1837, Lovejoy was killed by a mob and his murders were never caught.

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Throughout this 105 minute drama, we meet escaped slaves who made it to Chicago as part of the Underground Railroad. This expository driven work demonstrates the sheer brutality of slavery as well as the bravery of those determined to escape to Chicago and eventuality Canada. We meet the dedicated folks who risked their liberty to aid the runaways.

This troubling drama culminates in the actions of Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas as he attempts to save the Union by pushing a morally corrupt law – the Fugitive Slave Law–know as the “bloodhound law.” This unjust and immoral law essentially legalized the kidnapping of African-Americans. We see how Southern slave hunters created vague documents in search of runaways. Northern law enforcement was compelled by this law to allow the capture of any suspected black man living in the North. Chicago’s Underground Railroad became in jeopardy if they continued to help escapees. The freed blacks of Chicago were debating forming armed vigilante groups to patrol their neighborhood to stop the kidnapping of their  freed neighbors.

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We witness the confrontation between Senator Stephen Douglas and the Chicago Common Council over the injustices of the new federal law. The question is:  should local law enforcement aid such an unjust and morally corrupt law?

This powerful play features nine players each playing several characters in the multiple vignettes that vividly  present the ongoing moral and economic struggle that eventually tore America apart. This is an important play that puts faces on the victims, the bigots , and the basically good men whose conflicting ethics and economic necessities colored their actions.

The Bloodhound Law needs to be seen by high school and college students so that they can learn why citizens and government can go too far in not protecting basic human rights. It was slavery in the mid 1800’s; today its the poor plus the rights of gays. I can hope that enlightened school administrators will book their classes to see this important City Lit production. Steppenwolf for Young Adults should re-mount this show next season.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: April 21,2015

For more info checkout The Bloodhound Law page at theatreinchicago.com

At City Lit Theater,  1020 W. Brwn Mawr, Chicago, IL, call 773-293-3682, www.citylit.org, tickets $29 with some $25 & 418 tickets through their website, running time is 105 minutes with an intermission, through May 24, 2105

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