Adapted by Nambi E. Kelley
Based on the novel by Richard Wright
Directed by Seret Scott
In a co-production with Court Theatre
and American Blues Theatre
At Court Theatre, Chicago
“Goddamnit, look! We live here and they live there. We black and they white.
They got things and we ain’t. They do things and we can’t!
It’s just like living in jail. Half the time I feel like I’m on the outside of the world
peeping in through a knothole in the fence. ” – Bigger Thomas, Native Son
Powerful drama of oppression, freedom, and injustice brings an iconic novel to life
American Blues Theatre and Court Theatre have co-produced a stinging 90 minute stage adaptation that captures the essence of Wright’s 1938 novel, Native Son, by use of a method for us to see and hear the internal thoughts of 20-year old Bigger Thomas (Jerod Haynes). A black rat (signifying the horrible conditions of 1930’s poverty-stricken living quarters in South Chicago), comes alive as the alter-ego of Bigger, played by Eric Lynch. This adds power and depth as we see and hear Bigger’s thoughts and internal voice as he lives his life almost completely in reaction to his environment. He reacts to his plight rather than initiating events.
His home, his family, and his trappings hold him as a prisoner in life. As he struggles to find a place for himself in a world whose prejudice and racism has shut him out, Bigger suffers from such low self-esteem that when he looks in the mirror, he sees not himself, but what society wants him to be – their “native son.”
We see how white society controls black lives in the 1930’s by keeping them in tenements in restricted neighborhoods, as well as only offering backs only unskilled employment. When Bigger takes a job in a wealthy white man’s house as a chauffeur, we believe he may be heading toward a better life. But Bigger’s self-esteem issues and his oppressive environment overwhelm him into unwittingly unleashing a series of events that violently and irrevocably seal his doom.
Without giving away more of the story, let me state that while we early on empathize with Bigger, he becomes a non-sympathetic, reactive person. The power of us hearing his internal thoughts and the marvelously neutral performance by Jerod Haynes and his alter-ego (Black Rat) Eric Lynch leads us to forbidding hopelessness as events consume Digger. The dominant racist larger society crushes Digger. This work vividly depicts the hopelessness that kills the dreams of many in the poverty-stricken South Chicago.
Richard Wright’s landmark novel (an instant best-seller) graphically presented the plight of the poor blacks in the 1930’s. Nambi E. Kelley’s searing stage production reminds us that things have not changed enough as conditions from 75 years ago still contain elements of suffocation of the poor.
Native Son, the play, is an ensemble piece with fine work by all, especially sporting performances by James Leaming, Jeff Bim, Joe Dempsey, and Edgar Miguel Sanchez. The story reaches into out hearts like a stab wound as we know that doom will consume Bigger eventually. Hopelessness is the most debilitating sickness that poverty produces. Unfortunately, there are still too many “native sons” left in the ghetto. This production is important for a new generation to become aware of the plight of these native sons. It is powerful theatre superbly presented.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: September 20, 2014
For more info checkout the Native Son page at theatreinchicago.com
At Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis, Chicago, IL, call 773-753-4472, www.courttheatre.org, tickets $45 – $65, Wed. & Thurs at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2:30 & 7:30 pm, running time is 90 minutes without intermission, through October 19, 2014