Fighting For A Better Life

karpel-davis-verticalThe procedure of finding a nice place to live can be daunting for so many people where 1 in 8 have faced eviction at some point in their lives.

The housing crisis devastation is so severe that is debilitating our country to a cycle of poverty. Whatever life circumstances that people deal with such as financial instability, a bad credit score, domestic violence issues, a prison record or previously being evicted, there is a slum landlord who is willing to take them in to make a profit.

Landladies ask the question, What happens when the proprietor who is considered a slum landlord has a heart? When it's not just about the government funds that section 8 can provide or the easy cash by maximizing profit by minimizing spending and providing substandard amenities, but about a mother with a child needing a place to live? When others who can move into any place that has occupancy, we sometimes forget that for some, ‘If it weren't for the slum landlords you wouldn't be here!"

"Landladies" by Sharyn Rothstein brings a diverse story of fairness versus kindness and honesty versus falsifying information on an application to avoid eviction to Northlight Theatre in Skokie.

When a building owner and tenant form an unlikely friendship their two lives collide when both characters are facing their difficulties and inequities while advocating for a better life, a mother's desire for her daughter to have a better life and a landlord trying to prove to her mother that she is not a slumlord.

‘Landladies' addresses the challenging real estate markets that undesirable tenants face when seeking housing. Although statistics per state vary, studies show more than 83 million court records dating back to 2000 regarding evictions for low-income individuals that live in low-quality accommodations with limited means. Landladies also expose the need for landlords, who are considered slumlords which often provide housing in deteriorating neighborhoods for people unable to escape poverty or their unfortunate past.


The play opens with two women inside a dilapidated apartment with the landlord grilling her potential tenant to make sure she can be trusted while trying to sell an apartment with a hole in the floor as one of her best in the building.

The two women at first glance may look as different as day and night; however, if you look a little closer, you will these vulnerable and tough women have a lot of similarities. Property owner Marti who is continuously trying to build her empire by stacking up rental property to make her mother proud of her and single mother Christine who is a minimum wage worker fighting hard to make a better life for herself and her daughter.

Marti (Shanesia Davis) is a tough, confident and funny woman, who is working her way to the top as a building owner of slum apartments. Although she is as tough as nails on the outside, she has a soft spot in her heart for others and looking to pull herself out of being viewed as a slumlord. Marti is looking for love after her marriage fell and she is afraid that her new love interest will not see her a worthy partner.

Christine (Leah Karpel) who works at a taco restaurant that has a name where the word house is mentioned three times is dealing with her issues. She is a single mother, struggling to take care of her daughter, has a part-time job with no set hours which causes her problems with finding someone to watch her daughter and is dealing with a complicated ex-boyfriend Poet (Julian Parker) who has demons to battle. All of this is making her life more complicated than she can handle.

With both coming from a background will little or nothing and not having a supportive family to help ease their pain, made them stronger and more determined to fight to survive in a world filled with disappointments and hardships; however, both lonely and looking for love. Hoping that their situation will change, they form a bond of friendship but sometimes making friends isn't enough; especially when you can't escape your past.

shanesia-davis-leah-karpel-1Rothstein's stage setting is a raggedy apartment with a worn-out couch, no stove within the kitchen with a very noticeable hole in the floor. This scene paints a picture regarding what type of landlord Marti is and the kind of tenants that occupy her apartments.

Davis does an excellent job as the portrayal of Marti as she humanizes the slumlord character by breaking down her walls of vulnerability with Christine. She shows signs of caring for the single Mom when she buys her a microwave, water purifier and toys for her daughter.

Karpel shows the depths a mother will go through to provide a glimmer of hope as she endures her depression of providing for her daughter. Karpel battle as a young mother frustrated with life and the fact that she had a child so young is evident in her words that she wishes her daughter had a mother that could give her a better life; displays the feeling of all adolescent mothers fighting to survive. The women of Landladies are smart, complex and intelligent which makes for great dialogue throughout the play.

Julian Parker, Ensemble Member at Definition Theatre Company, is also a writer and producer is a native of julian-parker-leah-karpelChicago, and his recurring co-star on The Chi is as wayward Poet. Known for his role in Antoinette Nwandu's world premiere, Pass Over, at Steppenwolf Theatre, Parker effortlessly plays the troubled boyfriend fighting substance abuse issues. His ability to transform himself in any role makes him a natural choice for any director seeking a well-rounded professional such as Parker.

Landladies main focus, however, is the relationship between the two ladies and their very different and yet similar lifestyles. The message about life decisions and how they affect our future is a universal message but delightful portrayed in this play.

Whether you are the pulled together like Marti or Christine a woman with few options, when you are trying to build a home and know the threat of losing one, you will stop at nothing, even if its betrayal to the one that wanted to help you.

Let's Play ‘Recommend' that you check out this play at Northlight Theatre!

Northlight Theatre
Written by: Sharyn Rothstein
Directed by: Jess McLeod
Tickets $30-$88
March 14 – April 20

Filed under: ChicagoNow

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