Saturday, December 13, 2008

Taut Drama

A House With No Walls
by Thomas Gibbons

I attended the Chicago premiere production of A House With No Walls by Thomas Gibbons at the TimeLine Theatre Company.
The play was inspired by real events in Philadelphia surrounding the construction of the new Liberty Bell Center. When the original President's house (from the decade beginning in 1790 when Philadelphia was the capital city) was discovered and the slaves quarters for the house a protest developed to preserve this slaves' quarters as part of the new structure. The play focuses on the tension between the leader of the protest, Salif Camara played by A. C. Smith, and a conservative Black professor, Cadence Lane played by Amber Starr Friendly. Both Friendly and Smith were excellent in their respective roles. While their story is playing out their is a concurrent portrayal of two of the slaves from the original quarters who, near the end of the decade, are faced with the prospect of returning to Mount Vernon. This story of the sister and brother Oney and Austin Judge is contrasted with the modern confrontation and is tied in through the historical research of Cadence and a colleague of hers, Allen Rosen played by Steve O'Connell.
The play was effective and tautly directed by Louis Contey. I found the performances of Friendly and Smith particularly strong along with Leslie Ann Sheppard as the young slave girl. Overall the play raised interesting questions about the appropriate way to commemorate and respect the history of slavery in today's society. Once again TimeLine Theatre Company provid
ed a thoughtful history-based drama with contemporary interest.

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