Theater Review: Chuck Smith directs The Good Negro at The Goodman
By Edith McCauley
Resident Director Chuck Smith’s career in theater reflects his lifelong devotion to the arts. His directing credits include productions at ETA, Black Ensemble Theater, Northlight Theatre, MPAACT, Congo Square Theatre, The New Regal Theater, Kuumba Theatre, Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, Pegasus Players, Timber Lake Playhouse, and other prestigious venues throughout the country. His work at the Goodman has attracted diverse audiences and lent the theater a reputation for making it one of Chicago’s most sought-after venues.
Smith’s choice of cast is impeccable. As the Rev. James Lawrence, Billy Eugene Jones plays the convoluted minister intent on bringing equality to his Southern town without violence. As the play progresses, he finds this a difficult aim. His personal life also complicates the issue. Karen Aldridge is his patient wife, Corrine. Her loyalty is constantly tested by her husband’s “wanderings.” Both play their roles well, but that particular aspect of the play was somewhat disturbing. The Good Negro is a fictional work, but at times the play seemed to be taken from The National Enquirer.
Early on, brutality erupts when Claudette Sullivan’s (Nambi E. Kelley) 4-year-old daughter is taken to jail for using a “whites only” restroom. Claudette is manhandled by the local police, and later she and her child become the symbol for Lawrence’s goal to integrate the community.
The FBI is a constant reminder of the influence of J. Edgar Hoover on the events occurring in the South. Their wiretapping, infiltration of undercover locals in the Ku Klux Klan, and their on-the-job dialogue reveals a bitter conflict within both the national and local governments.
“The Good Negro” is one acceptable to the community, playing his role to perfection while hiding an anger destructive to him and all those with whom he co-exists. Non-violence was the strategy that enabled those involved in the Civil Rights Movement to bring their fight to the wider world, but it did not always work. A well-designed set keeps the action centered on the actors, and Smith’s direction keeps us focused for the entire evening. It is a long play–three hours, but the audience left with positive reactions.
Playing through June 6, and tickets are available by calling (312) 443-3800 or click GoodmanTheatre.org. Chuck Smith is an old friend, and his work never disappoints.
From the May 26-June 1, 2010 issue