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Sundown Names and Night-Gone Things

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Sundown Names and Night-Gone Things, Chicago Theatre Company. God, says one character in Leslie Lee's earnest drama, "is whatever gets you through to the next minute." This glimpse of Chicago's south side in 1939 doesn't differ much from the way it's portrayed today--drugs, domestic violence, and child abuse are signs of a pervasive despair stemming from poverty and racial injustice. The beleaguered denizens struggle as best they can, using religion, alcohol, and sex to make it through.

Four insurance agents, all men (Byron Glenn Willis, J.J. McCormick, James T. Alfred, and Michael Pogue), offer burial coverage to other African-Americans, a service white agents refuse to provide. For women, such insurance comes with a hidden price: if a woman misses a payment, her agent will coerce her into regular sex by threatening to cancel the policy--a dire situation in a community where all one can hope for, as one character puts it, is "a decent burial." The play's two female characters handle the situation differently. The sensuous unmarried mother (Natalie Salter) sleeps with men to get what she wants while the dowdy married woman (Inda Craig-Galvan) feels her sense of self is threatened.

Lee's play rambles at times--several long scenes could be cut significantly. But director Andrea J. Dymond keeps things moving by focusing on the characters' conflicting views of why their community is divided against itself when so many outside it want to keep it down.

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