Paul Robeson | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader
comment

Paul Robeson

The U.S. government's persecution of Paul Robeson during the cold war "illustrates the extent to which guardians of the culture are willing, when frightened, to attempt to blot from history a man's meaning, his very existence," wrote Professor Sterling Stuckey in a 1973 New York Times essay. One of our nation's finest actors and singers, Robeson was hounded and smeared by authorities for his open embrace of communism and angry reaction against American racism. But now, on the 100th anniversary of his birth, his foes' failure to destroy his reputation is manifest: Robeson has become a cultural icon, admired even by those who disagree with his pro-Soviet posturing because of his principled resistance to oppression. Among a slew of activities honoring the Robeson centenary this week is Phillip Dean Hayes's rousing, moving drama with music, a virtuosic showpiece for Avery Brooks (of TV's Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) in the role originally played on Broadway by James Earl Jones. Brooks portrays Robeson from boyhood through old age, charting the man's growing radicalization, while putting his own stamp on selections from Othello and such signature Robeson songs as "Ol' Man River" and "Joe Hill." With his powerful stage presence and robust baritone, Brooks was impressive as Robeson at the Chicago Theatre in 1991; this one-night return engagement is sponsored by the ETA Creative Arts Foundation. New Regal Theater, 1645 E. 79th, 773-752-3955. Saturday, April 18, 8 PM. $18-$25. --Albert Williams

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Avery Brooks photo by Adger Cowans; Paul Robeson photo by Syd Harris.

Add a comment