Theatre Reviews

The Gimmick

At Pegasus Players

The Gimmick, LaNisa Frederick

By Dael Orlandersmith

Directed by Ilesa Duncan

Poetically Powerful

Once again the poetically powerful voice of Dael Orlandersmith’s is on stage in Chicago.  Orlandersmith’s The Gimmick is being performed at Pegasus Players, and is an even more stirring story than her play Stoop Stories that she starred in at the Goodman Theatre earlier this season.  The Gimmick follows a different style of storytelling than Stoop Stories.  The Gimmick is told through the eyes of one main protagonist, Alexis (Lanisa Frederick,) and I believe Alexis is a young Orlandersmith.  This play is more autobiographical and filled with the raw honesty that spills from Orlandersmith’s words.  Lanisa Frederick has the sensuality in the rhythm of her speech and brings out the humanity in her character and emotions that are so deep down and repressed inside.  The story tore at my heart.

The Gimmick follows Alexis who is a young smart black girl growing up in Harlem.  The adults around her are caught in the negative traps of life leaving her to mature all alone except for her dependable friendship with Jimmy (Brandon Thompson,) her books and a librarian who encourages Alexis to use her words to achieve greatness.  As Alexis tells us her story scenes from her past are reenacted by Brandon Thompson playing Jimmy and Caren Blackmore craftily playing multiple characters that are each unique and carry their own story of the gimmick.  Through out the autobiographical poem The Gimmick talks about “the gimmick.” All styles of the “the gimmick” are presented from conniving and nasty, to using your artistic skills, to God.  Life is a gimmick.  Alexis’s story brings the audience through a hopeful romantic rise and then takes us crashing to the bottom of a crack dealing whore house (all for the same love) then rises to the top to tell the world about it.

This play spans across generations of people, but better yet dives deep into one girl.  The narrator’s style of speaking about what her “insides” were saying followed by what her “outsides” were saying is so deeply personal to the character and relatable for me as a viewer.  The set is minimal, as it should be since the performance on stage can speak for itself.  Touching on so many important themes of our day and speaking for voices that are seldom heard, The Gimmick brings humanity to a troublesome truth in life.  Orlandersmith has an ability to eloquently describe vulgarity and emotions typically too deep to touch.

The writing is some of the best this country has to offer and all three actors perform at a level worthy of the Pulitzer Prize Award Finalist’s words.  My heart reached out to each and every character brought to life on stage.   This performance is worth your attention.


By Timothy McGuire

Jeff Recommended

At Pegasus Players Theatre, 1145 West Wilson Avenue, Chicago, IL 60640

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