Absolute Negritude | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Absolute Negritude

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Absolute Negritude, Oui Be Negroes, at Bailiwick Repertory. Exploring the latitude and longitude of "negritude," this latest revue by a primarily African-American troupe offers comic comments on an endangered heritage. Eschewing politics, the sketches instead skewer the contradictions of pop culture and the hypocrisies of history. A television executive (Hans Summers, the company's token white) offers a lame explanation for the absence of black characters in the fall lineup: "We forgot." A newly freed slave (Khristian Leslie) from the Terra Cotta plantation gleefully finishes the letter begun by his murdered master. A crack-cocaine promoter (Ronald Ray) touts the belt tightening that an addiction imposes. An irate customer (Shaun Landry) incensed by the racist gimcracks at a southern Stuckey's attacks one stereotype with another. And then there's a scary visit to a KKK mart...

Half the stuff fizzles: a family-values look at incest, for example, requires too long a setup for an obvious delivery. But the longer scenes succeed through sheer detail. Cordell Pace, Ray, and Leslie delight as veteran jazzmen plotting a comeback as the Unsung Trio. Summers and Landry wage a war over having a pizza (ie, a child), and Summers and Leslie are endearing as black and white childhood chums who chart a rocky course to the retirement home. Among the comic monologues, Nicole Tinnin's stands out: she offers a catalog rap of the wonderful candies you can't find in the ghetto. Rooted in good times and bad, such moments deliver "negritude" in all its colors.

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