Chicago Theater Review: REDLINED: A CHICAGO LYRIC (Chicago Slam Works at Stage 773)

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by Lawrence Bommer on February 7, 2015

in Theater-Chicago


There’s a very specific springboard for Redlined: A Chicago Lyric, 75 minutes of slam protest poetry: It’s the elevated transit line that runs through the Windy City’s North and South Sides. The latest evocation from Chicago Slam Works (“igniting poetry through performance”) is J.W. Basilo’s taut staging of a free-form literary collage about the people who pass through the night between 95th and the Dan Ryan expressway on the south stretch and Evanston on the north end of the line. Connecting and dividing, the Red Line cuts through Chicago’s segregated neighborhoods, exposing its contrasts and contradictions (economic inequality, gentrification, police brutality, gang banging) as citizens commute and even communicate.


Performing on a bare stage, with words as props, the six performing poets—J. Evelyn, Rashaad Hall, Shelley Elaine Geizler, Frankiem Mitchell, Dru Smith, and Teagan Walsh-Davis—create a non-linear action portrait of masses in transit and their very specific stories. Along the tracks, we encounter scatter-shot portraits of a homeless woman who, to quote Tennessee Williams, “possesses herself in patience” and the rough riders who make their own rhythms on top of the rails. Anthropomorphic vignettes bring to life mysterious lampposts, city rats and their favorite refuse, and even bullets as proof of past passions.


Stretching beyond the elevated train tracks, the slam session takes pot shots at Mayor Emmanuel (now up for reelection) and his perverse penchant for tourism and privatization (as in closing schools and mental clinics and selling city services off to corporate profiteers). Topics touched on are false accusations of “selling out” leveled at anyone who’s slightly provocative, racial and gender stereotyping, sexual harassment in the trendy Lakeview neighborhood, racists in desperate denial, stage fright and performance doubts, promising schools that remain maddeningly underfunded, beggars with very specific pleas, highly conditional charity, and a hymn to hip hop from a “wigger” who demands his part in the art.

As always with this troupe and its lead writer RJ Eldridge, the precision of the anger finds an emotional equivalent in the details of the verse. The cumulative effect far outweighs the individual failings of occasionally incoherent or half-baked special pleading. With the right mill you can get great grist.

poster photo of Dru Smith, J. Evelyn, and Rashaad Hall by Andy Karol
production photos by Ladan Osman

Redlined: A Chicago Lyric
Chicago Slam Works
Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont
Fridays at 8
ends on March 13, 2015
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