The Gospel According to James

By Charles SmithThe Gospel According to James by Charles Smith at Victory Gardens

Directed by Chuck Smith

At Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, Chicago

Powerful and mysterious memory play sparks relativity of the truth

“In 1930 in Indiana, the dangerous energy around a group of teenagers desperate to break out of their small town results in a shocking double lynching. When the two sole survivors meet years later, very different versions of what happened down that lonely country road begin to emerge. Inspired by the infamous true story, The Gospel According to James considers America’s tangled feelings about the racism and sexism of our shared past–and our responsibility to honestly accept who we are so we can face the future together.”

The Gospel According to James by Charles Smith

So reads the press notes for Charles Smith’s riveting examination of how memory can lead to totally different explanations of past events that get tainted over time mainly due to how we process such memories.  Smith’s work dramatizes how unreliable personal memories can effect public history. It is 1980 and 50 years have passed since the lynching in Marion, Indiana.  James Cameron (Andre De Shields) returns to Marion Indiana in the hope of building a memorial to the two lynched African-Americans there for killing a white man by a mob in 1930. He finds Marie (Linda Kimbrough), formally know as Mary Ball, the only white girl associated with the Blacks from the incident that lead to the lynching. Mary left Marion and changed her name to Marie escape the horrible memories (and guilt) from the incident. James hope that Marie will verify his story to a documentary film maker.

The Gospel According to James by Charles Smith at Victory Gardens theater

When James and Marie meet, sparks fly as each has separate and conflicting memories of that day in 1930. Playwright Charles Smith weaves a mystery as he dramatizes both James’ and Marie’s  recollection of the events. We meet Tommy Shipp (Wardell Julius Clark) and his partner Abe Smith (Tyler Jacob Rollinson) and their naive younger teen buddy Apples (Anthony Peeples). These teens want to rebel from their poverty-stricken existence in Marion, IN. They hang with two like-minded white teens, Mary (Kelsey Brennan) and Claude (Zach Kenney). All are restless and rebellious.

The Gospel According to James by Charles Smith

Mary’s parents, Bea (Diane Kondrat) is the worn out mother caught in a loveless and abusive marriage to Hoot (Christopher Jon Martin), a narrow-minded ignorant blue collar bigot. We see through Marie’s memories how Mary hung with Claude but really loved Abe.

James’ recollections defended his claim of innocence despite his serving five years in prison. We see events through his eyes that seem to contradict Marie’s  memories.

The Gospel According To James blends a complex journey destined to expose the truth of the 1930 lynching. Who is telling the truth? James or Marie? Or are their other possibilities that emerge once James and Marie open up and actually match their memories without posturing and self-justification.  Playwright Smith vividly present the conflicting details of each recollection while spicing things with more detail that sends the truth in another direction. Both James and Marie need to let go of their guilt and suffering and both seek reconciliation. Can they ever get redemption?

The Gospel According to James by Charles Smith

See this beautifully written and superbly acted play it will move you in strange ways.  Andre De Shields, Linda Kimbrough and Diane Kondrat  were quit strong.  The cleverness and plausibility of the intricate plot makes the truth larger that myth of history. We see how poverty, ignorance and bigotry can shape events.  The play asks: have we learned tolerance from these events? I wonder.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: May 18, 2011

Jeff Recommended

For more info checkout The Gospel According to James page on

At Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL,  call 773-871-3000,, tickets $20 – $50, Tuesday thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Saturday matinee at 4 pm, Sunday at 3 pm, running time is  2 hours, 10 minutes with intermission, through June 12, 2011

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