Haven Theatre Company’s “Don’t Go Gentle” Review – End Days’ Hope for a Life Edit

 

As you filter into the theater to see “Don’t Go Gentle” the excellent set by Jeff Kmeic conveys that you are about to meet someone who has had a full life.  It’s a living room with crowded bookshelves, a liquor tray, framed photos, and an overstuffed arm chair and other furniture filling the room. Two pill bottles in the center of the stage stand out as the newer items in the house, alerting us that we are about to meet someone who is sick.

 

Tanya (Echaka Agba) meets the Judge (Norm Woodel)

 

When the lights come on that sick person turns out to be Lawrence (Norm Woodel), a retired conservative judge who has recently returned from the hospital and operations to treat his stomach cancer.  He is meeting with Tanya (Echaka Agba) and her son Rasheed (Andrew Muwonge) who in just a few lines convey to you, if not the seemingly tone deaf judge, that he’d better think twice about straightjacketing them in racist stereotypes. 

 

 

The judge, at his daughter’s urging, has volunteered to help Tanya fight a conviction as a felony that should have only been a misdemeanor.   Tanya is ambivalent about accepting the Judge’s help.  But it’s a start, and the play then unfolds to tell how Tanya and her son Rasheed become central to the Judge’s life, so central in fact that they displace the Judge’s two adult children from the place that they feel is their biological due. 

 

 

We get to know not only these two adult children—the troubled ex-drug addict son Ben (Benjamin Sprunger) and Amelia (Robyn Coffin) –but through them their long suffering mother who has passed away.  The fault lines of the Judge’s life groan as the ground beneath everyone shifts.  It is the sound of his soul reaching for a life rewrite during his presumed end days. 

 

 

Playwright Stephen Belber has developed a tale worth telling, and his script tells it well. 

 

What makes this a must-see production though is the superb acting by the entire cast and direction by Cody Estle.   Tanya doesn’t just say her lines but also oozes maternal vibes.   When Rasheed cuts through the B.S. of the older white people around him you also feel as if he is not reading lines but rather just speaking his mind.  When Amelia and Ben sit on the couch crying, their frames sink to child-size as the tears flow down their cheeks.  When the Judge, Lawrence, ends the play with a long series of expressions that show how he is assimilating his situation, he gives every silent film star great a run for their money.

 

Great acting, superb script, and much to chew on – “Don’t Go Gentle” is a must-see.

 

Now through July 12.

 

At Theater Wit, 1229 West Belmont, Chicago.

For information and tickets visit the Haven Theatre website or call the Theater Wit box office 773 975 8150.

 

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Photos:  Courtesy of Dean La Prairie

 

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