Review: The Gospel of Lovingkindness (Victory Gardens Theater)

| March 14, 2014
Cheryl Lynn Bruce and Tosin Morohunfola star in Victory Garden's "The Gospel of Lovingkindness" by Marcus Gardley, directed by Chay Yew. (photo credit: Michael Courier)        
      
The Gospel of Lovingkindness

Written by Marcus Gardley
Directed by Chay Yew
at VG Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map)
thru March 30  |  tickets: $30-$60   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
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A finely crafted hymn for the theater straight from the heart

     

Cheryl Lynn Bruce, Jacqueline Williams and Tosin Morohunfola in Victory Garden's world premiere of "The Gospel of Lovingkindness" by Marcus Gardley, directed by Chay Yew. (photo credit: Michael Courier)

    
Victory Gardens Theater presents
    
The Gospel of Lovingkindness

Review by Patrick Dyer

Chicago has been called “The Murder Capital of America” and, in many respects, the moniker fits. With the rise of gangs (thanks to the War on Drugs), the higher poverty and incarceration rates, and the lack of community support, it’s not hard to see why crime here has become a national concern. So is there no hope for the future? Not necessarily, because playwright Marcus Gardley brings a gospel of sorts about what to do in such times of crisis: The Gospel of Lovingkindness.

Cheryl Lynn Bruce and Tosin Morohunfola in Victory Garden's world premiere of "The Gospel of Lovingkindness" by Marcus Gardley, directed by Chay Yew. (photo credit: Michael Courier)Inspired by true events, The Gospel of Lovingkindness is actually two connecting stories: one about Mary (Cheryl Lynn Bruce), an African American woman whose son Emmanuel (Tosin Moronhunfola) was murdered in the South Side over his new Air Jordans, and the other about Noel (Moronhunfola), an African American teenager who must turn to desperate measures to provide for his mother (Jacqueline Williams) and newborn son while living in the South Side. After Emmanuel’s death, Mary takes this opportunity to help the impoverished communities of Chicago by fighting for more education, community centers, and job opportunities for the struggling poor. As Noel learns what it really means to live in a harsh world, both his life and Mary’s collide in a tragic way, making the show’s plea for finding a solution to violence all the more poignant.

Gardley crafts a very poetic script that’s more reminiscent of a gospel hymn than a traditional stage play. In many respects, it works. The same passion you’d hear from a choir singing in a church is felt in each spoken line. All of the characters have long monologues reminiscent to what one would hear in a pastor’s sermon. His use of time is a bit sporadic, though: for the first half, we’re with Mary’s storyline in the present, but then Noel is suddenly introduced with his storyline taking place a few months in the past. But director Chay Yew’s atmosphere, staging, and pacing help guide the piece through its occasional missteps and sometimes obvious plot “twists.” Kevin Depinet’s set design consists of a mostly dark stage, with set pieces hanging above the actors just to serve as location reminders, creating a sense of gloom and despair for the characters. However, the Lee Fiskness’ subtle use of lighting and an evocative projection of the Chicago skyline that changes with the time of day helps give the characters and audiences a glimmer of hope. This is all helped even more with an exceptional cast.

 Tosin Morohunfola and Jacueline Williams in Victory Garden's world premiere of "The Gospel of Lovingkindness" by Marcus Gardley, directed by Chay Yew. (photo credit: Michael Courier) Cheryl Lynn Bruce and Jacqueline Williams in Victory Garden's world premiere of "The Gospel of Lovingkindness" by Marcus Gardley, directed by Chay Yew. (photo credit: Michael Courier)Cheryl Lynn Bruce and Ernest Perry, Jr. in Victory Garden's world premiere of "The Gospel of Lovingkindness" by Marcus Gardley, directed by Chay Yew. (photo credit: Michael Courier) Cheryl Lynn Bruce in Victory Garden's world premiere of "The Gospel of Lovingkindness" by Marcus Gardley, directed by Chay Yew. (photo credit: Michael Courier)

Another aspect of Gardley’s world premiere script that deserves mention is his clever use of double casting, and the actors assembled here are more than up to the task. Moronhunfola captures both Emmanuel’s innocence and Noel’s desperation poignantly. Williams shifts the easiest between roles, but shines the most as Noel’s stern mother – especially in a final scene between her and Mary literally washing the blood stains off the streets of Chicago. Perry commands each scene he’s in with his firm stage presence and resonant voice, but never to the point where he can’t bring some humor into this dark piece. Bruce is exceptionally powerful as Mary, capturing both the strength and devastation of a mother who lost her child.

The Gospel of Lovingkindness may not offer the most pragmatic solutions, but it still offers one thing needed to confront such difficult issues: hope. Gardley has crafted a hymn for the theater straight from the heart, and despite its flaws, it still sings.

  
Rating: ★★★
  
   

The Gospel of Lovingkindness continues through March 30th at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map), with performances Tuesdays-Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays 4pm and 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $30-$60, and are available by phone (773-871-3000) or through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More info at VictoryGardens.org(Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes, no intermission. Note: download the informative production study guide here)

Tosin Morohunfola and Jacueline Williams in Victory Garden's world premiere of "The Gospel of Lovingkindness" by Marcus Gardley, directed by Chay Yew. (photo credit: Michael Courier)

Photos by Michael Courier


     

artists

cast

Cheryl Lynn Bruce (Mary), Tosin Morohunfola (Noel, Emmanuel, others), Ernest Perry, Jr. (Joe, Coach, others), Jacqueline Williams (Martha, Miriam, Others)

behind the scenes

Chay Yew (director), Logan Vaughn (assistant director), Jaret Landon (original music & musical director), Kevin Depinet (set design), Samantha C. Jones (costume design), Lee Fiskness (lighting design), Justin Snyder (technical director), Jesse Gaffney (props), Tina M. Jach (stage manager), Michael Courier (photos)

Cheryl Lynn Bruce and Jacqueline Williams in Victory Garden's world premiere of "The Gospel of Lovingkindness" by Marcus Gardley, directed by Chay Yew. (photo credit: Michael Courier)

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Category: 2014 Reviews, Biograph Theatre, New Work, Patrick Dyer, Victory Gardens, Video, World Premier

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