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Robert Johnson: Trick the Devil



Bill Harris's piece about bluesman Robert Johnson's final day is more opera than play: a series of songs, tales, and spoken arias about art, religion, and race relations with little narrative momentum. Harris wants to debunk the myth that Johnson sold his soul to the devil to become an accomplished musician. But the playwright buries his own interesting theory--that a white man devised the story to avoid acknowledging an African-American's genius--in an overwrought plot that rambles into the subjects of adultery and the slave trade. Ron OJ Parsons's fluid direction makes it easy to enjoy the ride and forget to ask till later what the play was about. In a strong cast, James Earl Jones II stands out as a clairvoyant blind pianist; when he sings briefly at the end, you wish the story had been about him. Through 8/14: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 and 7 PM. ETA Creative Arts Foundation, ETA Square, 7558 S. South Chicago, 773-752-3955. $25; two for one Thu and 7 PM Sun (except closing night).

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