In His Shadow, a college football player tackles racism and sibling jealousy | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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In His Shadow, a college football player tackles racism and sibling jealousy

Loy Webb's parable occasionally uses a heavy hand, but lands an emotional gut punch.

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Loy Webb's new play is subtitled "A Parable," and on those terms, it succeeds splendidly. By framing His Shadow through the lens of sibling jealousy, there are echoes of biblical brothers, particularly Joseph. But Teeny (Charles Andrew Gardner) doesn't want a coat of many colors; he desires a football jersey that doesn't share a number with his NFL hero big brother, Juice (Marcus D. Moore).

Teeny's single-minded determination to prove himself on the gridiron at his small college in the "Middle of Nowhere USA" collides with the demands from Rain (Anna Dauzvardis), a campus activist, that he protest the police killing of a young Black woman. But Teeny doesn't have the bandwidth for such ancillary stuff, despite being raised in Tommie Smith and John Carlos, a (fictional) town named for the Black athletes whose raised fists at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics presaged the "take a knee" protests of Colin Kaepernick and others. That is, until police violence hits close to home.

There are points in Webb's narrative where her parable framework veers toward didacticism (something that she avoided in her first play, The Light). But it's mostly a smart, nuanced portrait of how protesting itself sometimes operates within a framework of privilege. As fellow teammate Kodak (Moore) angrily reminds Teeny, not everyone has other resources to fall back on if they lose a scholarship or a shot at the NFL as a result of their activism.

Wardell Julius Clark's direction and the trio of actors also highlight the easy joyous banter sprinkled throughout the play. Though Teeny's narrative trajectory may seem clear early on, watching him come to terms with himself, his family, and his social conscience still provides a relevant snapshot of what we ask of heroes and those who struggle in their shadows.  v

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