Rivendell Theatre’s “Rasheeda Speaking” Review – Reality in Black and White

 

Give playwright Joel Drake Johnson 90 minutes of your time and four top rate actors at the top of their game.  You’ll get a more searing and nuanced discussion of racism in 2014 USA than mountains of academic tomes or pundits can deliver.

 

 

You’ll discover your own race bias at the play’s conclusion when you revisit how the play began.  When Jaclyn (played masterfully by Steppenwolf ensemble member Ora Jones) comes back to work after a week’s time and acts somewhat rudely to a confused and elderly woman (Lorraine Freund) do you think she’s having a bad day or a bad life?  Wherever you land on that question one thing is clear-- this story had begun long before the curtain went up.

 

 

As the curtain rises we meet Dr. Williams (performed by Eric Slater) explaining that he has decided that Jaclyn must go.  He has to finagle lots of documentation on her lack of fit in his office in order to get past the barriers created by the hospital’s HR Department.  A man whose upside down moral universe describes honesty as a tool of narcissists, he enlists his one other office worker, white Ileen (performed with great nuance by Tara Mallen) to do his dirty deeds. 

 

We watch Ileen change from a get-along kinda co-worker to the sort of woman Bull Connor would probably feel comfy dating.  Or --was this a transformation or simply a peeling away of the onion layers to show the bare beating heart of white racism in our time?

 

 

Office politics by definition are about posturing and power dynamics.   

 

When you see how Jaclyn choreographs her survival you know you she could teach Machiavelli a thing or two.  She has to.

 

 

It is unlikely that you will ever forget how the play gets its name—go see it to find out.  “Rasheeda Speaking” is first up in Rivendell’s season theme of “Stirring the Pot”.  Indeed, the pot is stirred.   This is a meaty script that will give you something to chew on for quite some time.  

 

Ably directed by Sandy Shinner, this script is one for the ages.   Don’t miss it.

 

Now through February 15, 2014.

 

Rivendell Theatre

5779 North Ridge

Chicago

 

For tickets call 773 334 7728 or visit the Rivendell Theatre website.

 

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Photos:  Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

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