Insurrection: Holding History | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Insurrection: Holding History


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Robert O'Hara has said of his 1996 play that he wanted to "imagine what it would be like for me to go back in time whole, as a gay black American." Written as his graduate thesis in the directing program at Columbia University as one part of a trilogy on slave history and family ties, it suggests both August Wilson and Tony Kushner. Like Wilson's Aunt Esther, one of the characters is an ancient survivor of slavery, and O'Hara shares Kushner's penchant for fantasy: he sends the old man and his gay great-great-grandson back in time, from 1994 to the eve of the doomed Nat Turner slave rebellion in 1831. The playwright's take on slavery is original and defiantly funny, as he looks at the ways contemporary Americans interpret--or misinterpret--the historical baggage of the "peculiar institution." When I first saw the play, in 1998 at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater, I was struck by its audacious blend of raucous humor and poetic imagery. This DePaul University student production, a midwest premiere directed by Phyllis E. Griffin, retains those elements, but the dynamic young cast brings a fresh sense of urgency to the play's implicit question: what limits should be placed on violence, even when it's in the service of freedom? Through 2/20: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 2 PM. The Theatre School, DePaul University, Merle Reskin Theatre, 60 E. Balbo, 312-922-1999. $6-$15.

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