More proof that the zeitgeist has shifted: at an earlier historical moment than the one we're living through now, Stephen Fedo and Tim Rhoze's new based-on-fact play, A Home on the Lake, might've been presented as the story of a brave and canny businessman—a sort of African-American George Bailey—who makes huge sacrifices and absorbs terrible insults to help an expanding black population buy homes in Evanston during the 1920s.
But that was an earlier historical moment. In this telling, the businessman, pseudonymously named Leland Fowler, is cast as an opportunist, an accommodationist, a patsy, and, not incidentally, a sexist who gives away everything he owns—and a thing or two he doesn't—for a dubious reward. The new heroes are black and white women determined to clean up the mess created by Fowler and his perfidious white financial backer.
Which is fine, except that the update is as flatly didactic as the earlier version would've been. A collaboration between Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre and the Piven Theatre Workshop, directed by Rhoze, the play is so determined to make woke points that it ends up cumbersome, contrived, and dull—an extended teaching moment rather than a living drama. The setup is ambitious, alternating between Fowler's time, when the shit is generated, and the present, when it (sort of) hits the fan. But nobody breaks type and every conclusion is foregone. Speaking as a native Evanstonian whose Jewish family arrived in the early 1950s, I can testify that there's a hell of a play to be written about bigotry in what used to be called the City of Churches. A Home on the Lake isn't it. v