Review: Objects in the Mirror (Goodman Theatre)

| May 15, 2017

Daniel Kyri stars as Shedrick Yarkpai in Objects in a Mirror, Goodman Theatre           

Objects in the Mirror

Written by Charles Smith 
Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map)
thru June 4  |  tix: $20-$75  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Storytelling so riveting you’ll forget to breathe


Lily Mojekwu, Daniel Kyri and Breon Arzell star in Objects in a Mirror, Goodman Theatre

Goodman Theatre presents
Objects in the Mirror

Review by Catey Sullivan

As a piece of story telling, Objects in the Mirror is riveting. Playwright Charles Smith’s world premiere drama about a Liberian refugee is so fraught with tension that it makes you hold your breath without realizing you’re doing so. Directed by Chuck Smith (no relation to the playwright), Objects in the Mirror removes the buffers those of us in the so-called first world so often erect between our lives and the hardships endured by those trying to survive in war zones thousands of miles away.

Lily Mojekwu stars as Luopu Workolo in Objects in the Mirror, Goodman TheatreLike travel itself, Objects in the Mirror is something that leaves you different. You’ll be changed between the time the lights come up and the curtain comes down on the Goodman production.

Playwright Smith was inspired to write Objects in the Mirror after meeting Shedrick Yarkpie, a Liberian refugee living in Adelaide, Australia. They got to know each other when Yarkpai was starring there in Smith’s drama, A Free Man of Color. Objects in the Mirror was inspired by Shedrick’s story. That story is harrowing and complicated.

Shedrick escaped Liberia with his Uncle John, and John’s children. The group walked for hundreds of miles to reach a hellish refugee camp in Guinea. On the way to relative safety, Shedrick’s losses were almost unfathomable. His mother was left behind to die. His best friend and Uncle John’s son Zaza (Breon Arzell) was lost to a child army. And in order to get on the list of refugees allowed to leave Guinea, Shedrick was forced to give up his very identity.

On paper, “Shedrick Yarkpai” died in the Guinea camp while his cousin “Zaza” survived. By assuming his dead cousin’s name, Shedrick became his Uncle John’s son. As a member of John’s immediate family, “Zaza” was allowed to join his “father” and relocate in Australia.

Objects in the Mirror depicts both Shedrick’s journey out of Africa and the trauma that defines his new life in Australia. Shedrick’s struggle with his new identity as Zaza is at the scarred heart of Objects in the Mirror.

The issue reaches a crisis point when Shedrick is befriended by Rob Mosher, an Australian attorney. Shedrick confesses his real identity to Mosher, telling him the story of the identity switch that allowed him to leave Africa. Mosher offers to help Shedrick reclaim his real name.

But what Mosher claims is just a matter of paperwork is something else entirely in Uncle John’s eyes. Shedrick sees Mosher as a friend who can help exorcise the ghosts of the past, Uncle John sees Rob – who is gay – as a deviant predator whose meddling puts the entire family in danger of deportation.

Allen Gilmore stars as John Workolo in Objects in a Mirror, Goodman Theatre Lily Mojekwu and Daniel Kyri star as Luopu and Shedrick in Objects in the Mirror, Goodman TheatreBreon Arzell, Allen Gilmore and Daniel Kyri star in Objects in a Mirror, Goodman Theatre Daniel Kyri stars as Shedrick Yarkpai in Objects in a Mirror, Goodman TheatreRyan Kitley and Daniel Kyri star as Rob and Shedrick in Objects in the Mirror, Goodman Theatre

The Goodman ensemble ensemble makes a searing impact, creating a narrative that’s taut with momentum.

As Shedrick, Daniel Kyri depicts a young man who is in many ways typical – delighted by fashionable new sneakers, interested in pretty girls and ambitious to make something of himself. Kyri also captures a young man haunted by emotional and physical trauma and stymied over how to move forward. Does he trust Rob? Or does he believe Uncle John’s insistence that living a lie is essential for survival? Rob’s sexuality muddies the waters further: John believes homosexuality is evil, and that Rob means to trick Shedrick into engaging in all manner of perversions.

As Uncle John, Allen Gilmore embodies the bone-deep complications and contradictions of a man who is both inarguably heroic and an ignorant bigot. There’s a scene in the latter third of the production where Uncle John and Rob (Ryan Kitley) square off over what’s best for Shedrick. Kitley initially seems almost mild-mannered, but as the conversation continues, it becomes so witheringly acidic it seems to dissolve everything around it but for the ferocious battle for Shedrick’s soul.

Ryan Kitley and Allen Gilmore star as Rob and John in Objects in a Mirror, Goodman Theatre

Rob and Uncle John aren’t the only ones deeply invested in Shedrick’s future. As Shedrick’s mother Luopu, Lily Mojekwu ramps up the tension with a performance that captures maternity at its fiercest and most heart-breaking. Mojekwu is only on stage for 15 minutes or so, but her scenes will leave you staggered.

The entire production is impeccably served by the design elements. Riccardo Hernandez’s set of sliding correlated walls captures the stark desolation of the African bush, as well as the squalor and chaos of the camps. Through the projection and lighting design by (respectively) Mike Tutaj and John Culbert, you can practically feel the heat of a relentless African sun burning over a landscape where there is no where to hide.

Playwright Smith doesn’t give audiences a tidy ending. There can be no happily-ever-after for Shedrick, any more than there can be for untold numbers of other refugees. But in telling Shedrick’s story, Smith captures the power of the human spirit to overcome all but indescribable hardships. There’s power and hope in Shedrick’s story. There is also some of the most riveting storytelling you’ll see this spring.

Rating: ★★★½

Objects in the Mirror continues through June 4th at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map), with performances Wednesdays 7:30pm, Thursdays 2pm & 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 2pm & 8pm, Sundays 2pm & 7:30pm. Tickets are $20-$75, and are available by phone (312-443-3800) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Half-price day-of mezzanine tickets available at 10am: promo code MEZZTIX. $10 student day of tickets. More info at time: 2 hours 15 minutes, includes one 15-minute intermission)

Allen Gilmore and Daniel Kyri star as John and Shedrick in Objects in the Mirror, Goodman Theatre

Photos by Liz Lauren




Daniel Kyri (Shedrick Yarkpai), Breon Arzell (Zaza Workolo) Allen Gilmore (John Workolo), Ryan Kitley (Rob Mosher), Lily Mojekwu (Luopu Workolo),

behind the scenes

Chuck Smith (director), Riccardo Hernandez (set design), Mike Tutaj (projections), John Culbert (lighting design), Birgit Rattenborg Wise (costume design), Ray Nardelli (sound design), Briana J. Fahey (production stage manager), Adam Belcuore, Erica Sartini-Combs (casting), Liz Lauren (photos)

Breon Arzell and Daniel Kyri star as Zaza and Shedrick in Objects in a Mirror, Goodman TheatreDaniel Kyri stars as Shedrick Yarkpai in Objects in a Mirror at Goodman Theatre


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Albert Theatre, Catey Sullivan, Drama, Goodman Theatre, New Work, Video, World Premier, YouTube

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