“I have struck a city— a real city—and they call it Chicago. … I urgently desire never to see it again. It is inhabited by savages.”— Rudyard Kipling, 1891.
Chicago, Friday, May 25, 2012. John Conroy’s compelling drama My Kind of Town, under the masterful direction of Nick Bowling, at Chicago’s Timeline Theatre puts a face on a story that has been lurking in the shadows for way too long–the police torturing of suspects into confessions for crimes they may or may not have committed.
John Conroy, who wrote My Kind of Town, knows first-hand of what he writes. Conroy has been investigating this story for the major part of his career as a journalist. He originally exposed the Chicago Police Torture Scandal in a nearly 20,000-word cover story, “House of Screams” in the Chicago Reader in 1990. The expose blew open the doors on a scandal that was already into its second decade and introduced readers to the accused and now jailed, Chicago police commander Jon Burge (thinly disguised at Dan Breen in My Kind of Town). Surprisingly, the investigative piece, three years in the making, was meet with widespread indifference.
John continued to investigate the torture, explaining, “I was frustrated writing story after story,” continuing, “You begin to doubt your judgment. Why do I think this is important if nobody else did? But how could I give it up? There were guys who were going to die, guys sitting on death row because of the false confessions.” Conroy went on to publish 20 more articles, a book, Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People and discussed the topic in forums and on public radio.
The seed for My Kind of Town was planted in 2007, after John was laid off from the Chicago Reader. The result is Conroy’s first play, the powerful World Premiere of My Kind of Town playing at TimeLine Theatre through July 29, 2012.
The play is not a documentary. It follows the story, the accusations, without preaching. Instead, it shows the audience the human element that motivates and drives those involved in the cover-up and the tortured. We learn about their family issues, we see the characters home lives, we see them at work and we see the personal conflicts within each. My Kind of Town starts with a video promoting what’s good about Chicago in stark contrast to what’s about to unfold. The play is filled with twists, turns and surprises–ending without a clear cut message, as it leaves the door open for continuing dialogue.
The staging makes the most of TimeLine Theatre’s small space. Characters often share the same space on stage and shift fluidly back and forth in time. We see the Breen family and the Jeffries family at the same table on the morning of the hearing–yet we are able to separate the two. We better understand George Dawson (A.C Smith), an African-American police officer, as we see him interact with all the other characters simultaneously. We feel the brutality being experienced by Otha Jeffries (powerfully moving performance by Charles Gardner), even though we don’t actually see it taking place.
We feel the pain of Ora Jones as Rita Jeffries, the conflicted and loving mother while she stands by her son Otha Jeffries, as the troubled teenager is accused of killing four people by arson. We see the dark side of Otha as he throws f-bombs at Attorney Robert Morales (Derek Garza) who is trying to help him. David Parkes, the torturer police commander Dan Breen, we discover is an entirely different person outside of his Area 2 police headquarters. Breen’s wife, Ann Breen played by Danica Monroe finds the accusations about the man she knows hard to swallow. Maggie Kettering, a visitor from the state’s attorney office portrayed by Danica Monroe balances her conflicting emotions as she struggles with what’s right and wrong. Carolyn Hoerdemann as Ann’s sister Peg struggles with her loyalties while Trinity P. Murdock does an exceptional job as Albert Jefferies, Otha’s seemingly unloving father who doesn’t know how to reach out to his son.
The production staff for My Kind of Town includes Brian Sidney Bembridge (Scenic Design), Alex Wren Meadows (Costume Design), Nic Jones (Lighting Designer), Mikhail Fiksel (Original Music and Sound Design), Mike Tutaj (Projections Designer),DJ Reed (Properties Designer), Dina Spoerl (Lobby Designer), Maren Robinson (Dramaturg), Benjamin Thiem (Assistant Director), Ana Espinosa (Stage Manager), Brittainy Barattia (Production Assistant), John Kearns (Production Manager), Matt Buettner (Technical Director), Meg Grgurich (Scenic Painter) and Mac Vaughey (Master Electrician).
Tickets are $32 (Wednesday – Friday) or $42 (Saturday & Sunday). Preview tickets are $22. Student discount is $10 off the regular ticket price with valid ID. Group rates for groups of 10 or more are available. To purchase tickets or for more information, call the TimeLine Theatre Box Office at 773.281.8463 x6.
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. There is no performance on Sunday, June 24. The play runs through July 29, 2012. Running time, 2 hours and 15 minutes including one 15 minute intermission.
TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave., near the corner of Wellington and Broadway, inside the Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ building, in Chicago’s Lakeview East neighborhood.
The LAZ Parking Lot at 3012 N. Broadway is the closest parking and costs $6.25 for 3-5 hours. TimeLine also offers parking for $8 for up to 6 hours with validation at the Standard Parking garages at Broadway Center (2846 N. Broadway, at Surf) or the Century Mall (2836 N. Clark). There is also limited free and metered street parking and other paid parking lots nearby.
Sunday Scholars Series.
Sunday, June 10, 2012 from 4 – 5:30 pm Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ Sanctuary, next door to TimeLine Theatre 615 W. Wellington Avenue. For My Kind of Town, the Sunday Scholars Series panel will feature Rob Warden of Northwestern University’s Center for Wrongful Convictions, accompanied by some of the men who have been wrongfully convicted due to torture. Tickets for the 2 p.m. performance of My Kind of Town that day are $42 and are subject to availability. Sunday Scholars Series attendees need not attend the performance to attend the discussion. Admission to the discussion is free but reservations are recommended. For tickets to the show/discussion or reservations for the discussion only, call the TimeLine Theatre Box Office at 773 281 8463 x6 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Conversation with Playwright John Conroy and Rick Kogan.
Monday, June 25, 2012 from 6 – 7:30 pm
Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theatre
78 E. Washington Street, Chicago. Veteran investigative journalist John Conroy has covered the Chicago police torture scandal for more than 20 years, challenging public indifference to become one of the leading voices drawing attention to the charges. Rick Kogan of WGN 720AM Radio and the Chicago Tribune will join Conroy for a wide-ranging conversation about the development of Conroy’s first play, My Kind of Town.
Admission is free but reservations are recommended. Call the TimeLine Theatre Box Office at 773 281 8463 x6 or email email@example.com.