Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land

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About two-thirds of the way through this long, elaborate, and emotional performance, principal creator and performer Bill T. Jones performs a twisting, tonrmented dance interpretation of the story of Job, his accompaniment consisting of a wailing wall of searing sound produced by jazz composer Julius Hemphill and his saxophone sextet--and of a real-life minister reading from the Bible. After the sequence reaches its blistering climax, the panting Jones approaches the minister and carries on a quiet, intensely questioning conversation about sin, suffering, and spirituality. Drama and dance have their roots in religion, but few contemporary artists put their craft to such unabashedly religious purposes: this full-scale work for dancers, actors, and musicians is a theatrical quest for faith, a sorrowful yet celebratory ritual of rage and redemption. Its fundamental concerns are Christianity and slavery, the twin legacies forced upon Africans by Europeans a few centuries back whose effects are costing us dearly today; it's also about the death of Jones's lover Arnie Zane to AIDS, Jones's own HIV infection, and the ravaging effects of racism, poverty, and drugs on the American family. Tough stuff, expressed in a stylistic sprawl that includes basketball moves, showboat melodrama and minstrelsy, gospel pageantry, tableaux vivants confessional monologues, silent-screen slapstick, and texts by Harriet Beecher Stowe, LeRoi Jones, Sojourner Truth, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr. Given the somber themes and elusive aesthetics, it's encouraging that Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land is one hot ticket. Seats are scarce for this weekend's shows; don't crowd the box office--call Performing Arts Chicago to get hold of what's left. Civic Theatre, March 13 and 14 (20 N. Wacker, 242-6237). Friday and Saturday, 7:30 PM. $20-$25.

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