Victory Gardens Theater presents
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JAMES
At 2433 N. Lincoln
Written by Charles Smith
Directed by Chuck Smith
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm
Saturdays at 4pm
Sundays at 3pm
Wednesdays at 2pm
Thru June 12th
Running Time: Two hours and forty-five minutes includes a delayed start and an intermission
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
The truth is a matter of opinion. It’s tainted by time. It evolves with memory. Fifty years after the fact, two eye witnesses debate the truth. Victory Gardens Theater presents the Chicago premiere of THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JAMES. Marie and James meet up at a funeral home. They share memories of a horrific incident in the 1930’s. The recollections don’t match up. They both agree two black men were lynched by a mob. But they disconnect on why. Who really killed Claude? Marie and James reveal different versions of the same thing. THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JAMES is a past and present collision of timeless hate.
Inspired by actual events, Playwright Charles Smith pens a riveting account of injustice and discrimination. Smith uses a white woman and a black man to narrate flashbacks to a pivotal historical moment. He effectively blurs the lines of real and imaginary. The intermission discussion is a lively twitter of ‘who do you think is telling the truth?’ In the second half, he satisfactorily pulls it all together in a commemorative box of burden. Director Chuck Smith stages the reenactments within feet of their future selves. The parallel provides a powerful emotional triangulation for the audience. Smith uses the actors’ closeness for intimate disclosure. At critical points, the past actually reacts to the present. The impact is incredibly poignant.
Grappling in present day, Andre De Shields (James) and Linda Kimbrough (Marie) spar as equals. Shields and Kimbrough confidently hook the audience into their reality. As the story concludes, their bittersweet actuality is hopeful for one and devastating for the other. From the past, Kelsey Brennan (Mary) is moving as a headstrong teenager caught between worlds. Brennan calls out to her future self in a heartbreaking warning. Christopher Jon Martin (Hoot Ball) and Diane Kondrat (Bea Ball) are white trash amplified. Martin and Kondrat give authentically gritty performances as parents focused on saving their daughter. Neither is completely lovable or dislikable. Maybe a deliberate decision by Smith & Smith, despicable and kindness comingle in these flawed humans. It’s like Zach Kenney’s (Claude) performance. Sure, he seems nasty but enough to be killed?? But maybe that’s the point! Don’t worry about the racist monsters. Be aware that discrimination and hate exist in subtle ways in friends, co-workers, and family.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JAMES is a testament to the hateful truth inside everybody.
To see how two accounts of the same thing contrast, check out The Gospel According to Theatre Bob at Chicago Theatre Addict.