I missed this original run but fortunately for me and Chicago, it’s back with the entire Jeff Award-winning “Outstanding Ensemble.” In 1931, nine African-American teenagers were falsely accused of raping two white women. No evidence linked them to a crime or each other. Still, the notorious ‘Scottsboro Boys’ would together face a lynch mob, multiple trials and prison because of their race. This real life American tragedy is reimagined under the exceptional storytelling of Playwright Mark Stein, Director Michael Menendian and this superb ensemble.
Menendian masterfully facilitates this evocative entertainment in An Evening of Vaudeville and Sorrow. Stein sets the Scottsboro Boys’ story in the afterlife. The guys continue to be stuck together and forced to tell, relive and reenact this mockery of justice. Kevin Patterson (Haywood) serves as the primary narrator. The commanding Patterson navigates us through the complex absurdities of this historical calamity. Their reality is a downer. The show is not. The vaudeville-style blows up the lampoon. The comedy balances out the sorrow.
The ensemble, except for Patterson, play multiple roles. They are a Scottsboro Boy and a white person connected to the trial. They transition into the white person by donning a mask. Designer David Knezz has created these amazing masks. They are both life-like and surreal at the same time. The distinct masks perfectly enhance the personality of the character. The prosecutor’s has a long sinister nose. The jury’s are these matching, simpleton ones. The effect is disturbing and intriguing.
The talented ensemble effortlessly shift between contrasting personas. In particular, a noteworthy Breon Arzell goes from sullen to animated in his character shift. A stooped over Arzell looms on the fringes as Willie. When he plays Joe, an attorney for the International Labor Defense, he is a frenzy of energy as he mystifies the guys with his double-talk and magic tricks. An outstanding Andrew Malone also is hysterical playing Sam, a criminal lawyer from New York. A nimble Malone shimmies across the stage or extravagantly uses his long fingers for cross-examination. He is riotous! All the slapstick elements of the show make the tragic injustice easier to swallow. Along with all the comedy are thought-provoking glimpses of individual suffering. Katrina D. Richard (Eugene, Victoria) powerfully captures being a rape victim and a rape accuser. Anna Dauzvardis (Ozie, Rubie) plays both her characters with dimwitted distinction. As Ruby, she is the funny sidekick. As Ozie, she is this confused and endearing dolt.
Menendian ensures each of his large ensemble are individually recognized as a person first. The care he takes in preserving the humanity within the comedy and drama makes this storytelling brilliant. SCOTTSBORO BOYS is a must see. Don’t miss it!
Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes includes an intermission
At Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark
Written by Mark Stein
Lyrics by Harley White Jr.
Directed by Michael Menendian
Music direction by Frederick Harris
Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays at 3pm
Thru August 27th
Buy Tickets at www.raventheatre.com
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