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The Rabbit Foot

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The Rabbit Foot, Chicago Theatre Company, at the Parkway Community House. Leslie Lee's drama uses two powerful Old Testament archetypes--the Flood and the Jews' exodus--as parallels for the great migration of blacks to the north beginning in 1920. Ostensibly an examination of the early days of black vaudeville performance, The Rabbit Foot actually combines two distinct but related stories of misfortune, chronicling a minstrel troupe's travels and the unraveling of a family of Mississippi sharecroppers. With its infectious song and dance routines, the first story--which follows the Rabbit Foot Minstrels on an ill-fated trek through the Deep South--is easily the more engaging. But the latter is more potent, dissecting the black man's plight in post-World War I America: a veteran caught between two families and two codes of conduct has a crisis of conscience.

Lee struggles at times to weave together these divergent story lines: the parts are complementary, but the whole is by no means seamless. What the script lacks in polish, however, it makes up for in spirit, a spirit that carries over to the cast's emotionally balanced performances--especially Abdul-Malik's as the confused, angry veteran. In the hands of an ensemble so adept at mining the script for pathos, these characters' arduous journeys toward self-actualization are fascinating.

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