Written & directed by Jackie Taylor
At the Black Ensemble Theater, Chicago
Light bio/love story light on story long on emotions
I’m not sure that a play with music about the loving relationship of a black woman, Chaz (Rashada Dawan), and her white male lover, Roger Ebert (Kevin Pollack), should be mounted in the usual format of the Black Ensemble. Granted, the Chaz/Roger interracial marriage was a well known love fest, defying the trend that found such interracial unions not enduring, but does having the story laced with 18 songs featuring a Greek chorus and several solo singers serve the story well?
Add hardly a mention of Roger Ebert as a film critic who, together with Gene Siskel, revolutionized film criticism through a TV show, and young audience members got little info as to what Roger Ebert accomplished. According to this musical play, Ebert’s major accomplishment was to have a loving marriage with Chaz, a black woman. While that super-love marriage was dramatized, we get only a few glimpses into how the civil rights attorney and the famous film critic-turned-TV star actually got along. The impression given here was that each were devoted to one another. Roger called Chaz his “goddess” while Chaz demonstrated her live by being Roger’s caregiver during the years of cancer treatments that left Roger totally dependent on her. That, indeed, is love!
I can only wish that The BlackWhite Love Play was more detailed about both Chaz’s civil rights activities, as well as more details about how Ebert & Siskel made independent film reviewing famous throughout the USA. Instead, Jackie Taylor makes the show into a song fest in lieu of more Chaz/Roger stories.
In act two, the show becomes about Chaz being Roger’s care taker during cancer, as well as homilies about racism and toleration that sends the message that we, indeed, need to love one another. Those Golden Rule thoughts come off as preachy, and songs with that message dominate. The lesson that “life is a circle” that allows each of us to live on stretches the point a tad much.
The usual Black Ensemble singing seemed, at the performance I attended, forced, and the band’s sound mix had the drums and sax a bit too loud. The show’s tunes came off lacking in the high energy that has become the trade mark of a Jackie Taylor production. The choreography featured loads of hand waving and formations that looked like a football halftime drill team routine. That often distracted form poignant moments in the story.
There is enough love story and enough songs to make for a worthy show. It’s just that the opportunity to have an in depth story of two remarkable lovers was under utilized. The BlackWhite Love Play does emphasize the love relationship, but needs more story and less songs.
At Black Ensemble theater, 4450 N.Clark, Chicago, IL, call 773-769-4451, www.blackensemble.org, tickets $55 – $65, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 3pm, running time is 2 hours, 10 minutes with intermission.