Theater Review: Heat at eta Creative Arts Foundation, Inc.

Marsha Estell’s story of three generations of African-American women facing life issues in a small Illinois town on the hottest day of the year touches us all. Mudear (Carol Rayner Brazier) makes her professional debut as an aging woman still hiding her secrets of failed relationships from her two daughters, Rose, played by deborah neal, and Sharon, played by Gay Glenn. Rhonda Marie Bynum is Shelly, Sharon’s daughter traumatized by a devastating illness.

The flamboyant Rose cares for her mother and still searches for just the right man. Her outrageous behavior titillates the audience, even as she hides the tragedies in her lonely life. Divorced, Sharon’s life is entirely focused on Shelly, who will never bear a child as the result of cancer. Estell’s work has received wide acclaim. Nominated for the 2004 Joseph Jefferson Award after being mounted at Chicago Dramatist in 2004, it was also produced at the Bloomington Playwrights Project in Indiana. Heat has also been published in an anthology, New Plays From Chicago.

Having seen works at eta for nearly 30 years, it is rewarding to observe its phenomenal growth. Their space at 7558 S. Chicago Ave., houses a theater and presents a full schedule of classes in the performing arts. Its daytime performances give students and children the opportunity to experience professional theater, and many special events offer the entire community cultural enrichment. Abena Joan Brown (president/producer) is a Chicago legend. Her complete dedication to the production of original work by African-American playwrights provides an unequaled opportunity for writers, actors, musicians and technicians to develop their craft. Runako Jahi is artistic director, and continues to play an essential part at eta. His plays for students are charming and educational. Currently playing is The Positive Evolution of Bongo Baker, a long-time favorite.

Every aspect of eta has evolved over the years. The set for Heat is a perfect reproduction of a small-town front porch. Rob Martin is the designer. The determination of everyone at eta has created a gift to the entire community.

The next production, Bedtime Story, opens Feb. 15 and runs through April 8. For further information, call (773) 753-3955.

From the Jan. 24-30, 2007, issue

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