Chicago Theatre Beat Review of "BLACK!"
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Review by Duane Barnes
I have a great respect and admiration for a performer who can hold an audience for an entire evening, listening in rapt attention to his thoughts and opinions on his life and the world around him. Such a performer is Michael Washington Brown, who gives life to the words he has both written and performed in various cities in the United States. Born in England with Caribbean heritage, he brings both societies as well as his American life experiences into his work.
Brown opens his evening with a question to the audience: “why am I now African-American when for so many years, I’ve been Black?” This comes as he describes filling out a form that requires checking a box. An African-American box is there but not a box for Black. And he then describes his clever solution which is clever and fun to hear. He goes on to talk about how people have tendencies to put others (not like them) into boxes of a sort, like music. And off he goes exploring musical tastes, his and others, to show the disparities that occur within that “box of music”.
Another avenue explored is the Black to Black relationship, replacing the usual “well, how do Whites and Blacks interact with each other?” He shows how there are differences in various arenas, not only music, but in dress, interests, communications. And this he says in various and interesting ways, “All Blacks are not alike!
It’s interesting to note that, as Mr. Brown’s characters come to life, they are speaking to, or reflecting on, the world today, not specifically focusing on the United States. But his piece that touches on Africa, particularly, expresses a frustration of the peoples of that continent that they, Black people, own nothing while the world forges ahead. Blacks in other countries prosper and, hopefully, hire other Blacks to help lift more and more of their fellow citizens out of poverty. This is nicely touched on when Mr. Brown speaks to this idea as a Black Englishman of Caribbean descent. His family embraces not only relatives but fellow countrymen as well, by helping newcomers to find jobs and skills so they, too, can lead full and integrated lives in their new country. This, he insinuates through his African voice, is not happening in Africa. And there is anger in the voice, expressing in tones of a continent, long exploited, demeaned, cast aside as so much waste. (As an aside, I recall seeing, one time years ago, written in a local high school history book of the ‘50’s, a chapter heading that declared, “For all that Africa had to offer, it might have well been on the moon”. Mr. Michael Washington Brown expressed this in his own powerful way.)
Although no credits were given in the program, specific lighting enabled Mr. Brown to move from a subject discussion to a specific example as a spot focused on a small specific area. Music, too, lent atmosphere at various points in the presentation, only at the end needing to be more gentle and soft so that key, concluding lines are not diminished as the play closes.
“BLACK!” only runs thru this Sunday, so be sure to catch it before it closes.
|“BLACK!” continues through July 30th at Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map), with performances Thursdays and Fridays 7:30pm, Saturdays 2pm & 7:30pm, Sundays 2pm. Tickets are $25, and are available by phone (773-935-6875) or online through OvationTix.com (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at AthenaeumTheatre.org. (Running time: 100 minutes, includes an intermission)|