Bet You Didn't Know That | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Bet You Didn't Know That

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Bet You Didn't Know That, Chicago Sable Ensemble, at New Harrison Street Galleries Studio Theatre. Actor-director-playwright Gregory Christopher Armstrong spent two years at the Museum of Science and Industry playing coal miner, Titanic passenger, and others to personalize the exhibit stories. His evening of vignettes about obscure but remarkable African-Americans takes a similar form, with each man narrating his own story: Dorie Miller, a World War II deck swabber who saved hundreds during an enemy air attack but wasn't honored until protesters forced the issue in Washington; Joseph LaRoche, the only black man on the Titanic; Robert Parker, chauffeur and bartender to LBJ and eventual maitre d' of the U.S. Senate dining room.

Light, informative, and low maintenance in its sparse Oak Park storefront space, this hour-long presentation would make a provocative predinner diversion or an entertaining school assembly. You can't help but imagine, though, what this might look like if Armstrong developed it into a full-scale production. There's a wealth of material even without adding new characters--the Robert Parker story alone could be expanded into a politically charged Driving Miss Daisy. A few more actors to complement the lead roles (though Armstrong is off to a good start with Tim Minger playing LBJ and others) and a director to add blocking and bring out the breezy Armstrong's emotional dimensions would brighten things considerably. It'd be worth doing because these people are worth knowing.

--Kim Wilson

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