REVIEWSREVIEWS BYTheatre ReviewsTom Williams



sugarward at the side project
Sugarward by Sean Graney

Directed by Geoff Button

At the side project, Chicago

Powerful acting fuels Graney’s world premiere Sugarward

Sean Graney’s new play, Sugarward, is a comedy/drama set in early 1700’s as Col. Daniel Parke (John Henry Roberts) arrives as the new British governor of  the British Leeward Islands in the Caribbean. He is a pompous, ambitious, and idealistic soul determined to govern in the best interests of the British Crown. He is greeted by three locals all played by Joel Ewing.  Thomas Kirby is Parke’s servant who is quite candid about local affairs. After Parke delivers a long speech outlining his goals as governor, Kirby tries to enlighten Parke about the sugar plantation owners’ use of slaves and their black market sugar sales to British enemies France and Holland. These early scenes with Christopher Codrington, Jr, an old man and Edward Chester, a sugar baron, are play to the hilt by Joel Ewing as he sports different accents and exudes some comic movements. But the too frequent shouting (at the top of his lungs) by Ewing quickly became irritating.

sugarward at the side project

Act two is four years later and we witness a major change in Col. Parke. He is now a power-grabbing governor who has used the power of the Crown as well as dissolving the local assembly to annex much of the sugar growing land in the islands. Edward Chester leads the revolt against Parke. We see how the accumulation of power both corrupts and destroys Parke.

The play starts out a comic parody that eventually turns into a serious cautionary tale about the corruption of accumulating excessive power. John Henry Roberts is effective, first as the pompous governor, than as the worn-out obsessive ruler. Joel Ewing is terrific as he moves back and forth from three distinct characters. Once he tones down his booming voice a bit, his performance becomes engrossing.

Sugarward is a perplexing work that is saved by the fine work by Roberts and Ewing. Graney’s themes are a tad too general as he tries to deal with local rights versus British interests; the mistreatment of slaves; and the trappings of power. Sugarward is an actor’s showcase. It is worth a look.


Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: January 6, 2013

For more info checkout the Sugarward page at

At the side project theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis, Chicago, call 773-340-0140,, tickets $20, $15 for seniors/students, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through February 10, 2013


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