Co-written by Adam Seidel
Produced by Collaboraction, Chicago
Theatre Shares Stories of Activism
Since the debut of Crime Scene in 2013, Collaboraction, a theatre company dedicated to social activism, has made the “docu-drama” the centerpiece of their youth and neighborhood outreach programs. Now, they have produced a sequel, which uses violent crimes to explore the concept of restorative justice and the condition of life in Chicago’s poorer neighborhoods. Crime Scene: The Next Chapter consists of five main stories and some connecting segments which tell the origins of activist groups around Chicago, with the emphasis on “tell.” Some parts of them are acted out in a non-naturalistic style, but the point of this piece is to strengthen trust between community members, with all aesthetic choices geared towards that.
The stories themselves are interesting, and crucially, come directly from the people in them. Sir Taylor, playing himself, tells us how he joined the Jesse White Tumbling Team as a child, and enjoyed success, but saw the housing projects he called home continue to deteriorate. One time, he saw a man murdered over a chicken by another man he saw every day and knew personally. Another time, his gymnast career was severely imperiled when somebody broke his leg because he had crossed an invisible territorial marker. Luis Crespo, the leader of Collaboraction’s teen ensemble, tells us the story of his father, a recovered heroin addict. We also learn of the creation of Project NIA, which is dedicated to helping minors in legal trouble and victims of violence, and Michael and Karen Trout, who founded the youth tutoring groups YMEN and PEARL in North Lawndale. Lastly, we see the murder of Hadiya Pendleton and its aftermath, including her parents’ plan to host a bonfire on June 2, which would have been her eighteenth birthday. They were in the audience opening night.
But before we get to the stories, we spend twenty minutes after the house opening wandering in the space, with the intention that we interact with each other and the cast. This sort of pressured audience participation is part of Collaboraction’s purpose, but I wasn’t game for answering a complete stranger’s inquiry into how violence has affected me. Prospective audience members who park outside should also be aware that this exercise is not included in the show’s official run-time of ninety minutes. Once the show begins, we are given a brief history of Chicago, with about a sentence devoted to each decade of the twentieth century, and an illustrative scene. This early part of the show contains the most Bill Cosby-like scolding, which is different from the tone later on, but combined with the putting the audience on the spot, risks alienating the audience before getting to the meat of the production. But I do like seeing a theatre company draw public attention to things like redlining.
Of course, I only moved to Chicago a year ago, so it’s entirely possible that I’m not the target audience, and the activist writers who have spent a large amount of their time in the neighborhoods that are the focus of this show know how to appeal to the people living there. Publicizing the groups that are working towards social change is a worthy cause, and Crime Scene: The Next Chapter provides memorable depictions of their accomplishments. I was uncomfortable with the show’s insinuation that the path to progress is to grant ministers more official influence over the legal system and personal disputes, but appreciate its optimism and specificity. The play is a conduit for communication without metaphor, making it an unusual theatrical experience, but a valid one, which concerned residents may well find rewarding.
Reviewed May 27, 2015
For more information, see Crime Scene’s page on Theatre in Chicago.
Playing at the Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago. Tickets are $15-30; to order, call 312-226-9633 or visit collaboraction.org. Plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 3:00 pm through June 21. Running time is two hours with no intermission.