The Old Settler | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Old Settler


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The Old Settler, Organic Theater Company, at McGaw YMCA Child Care Center. In the 1940s Harlem setting of this play, "old settler" means a woman 40 or over with no husband and no prospects. John Henry Redwood's award-winning drama centers around African-American spinster Elizabeth (Valarie Tekosky) and her sister Quilly (La Donna Tittle). To help make ends meet, Elizabeth takes in a boarder (Tracy Livingston), a young man hoping to find his childhood sweetheart (Coco Elysses) and take her back to South Carolina. When she rebuffs him, he turns to Elizabeth. The relationship that develops between him and his much older landlady arouses great consternation in Quilly and revives the sisters' bitter rivalry: an old pain has been forgiven but not quite forgotten.

Everything about this Organic Theater production is authentic and natural. The playwright demonstrates a deep understanding of human emotion, relationship, and frailty. He also presents the racism of the period effectively, using anecdotes that clearly portray it but don't detract from the more subtle drama of the characters' situation. There isn't a false note or imbalanced moment from the actors, and their vulnerability is touching and utterly believable. Clearly everyone involved in this staging sweated the details, from the nuances of the dialogue to the sisters' very ladylike apartment to the well-chosen sound track of jazz classics and vintage radio broadcasts. --Kim Wilson

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