Monday, May 08, 2017

Poignantly Real Reflections Power Goodman's 'Objects in the Mirror,' but Only So Far -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Objects in the Mirror
a world premiere play by Charles Smith
directed by Chuck Smith
Goodman Theatre, Chicago
Thru June 4

I like when art exposes me to realities I wouldn't otherwise observe--even, perhaps especially, grim ones--and in depicting the tragedies and travails encountered by a real-life refugee from West African warfare, Charles Smith's Objects in the Mirror has an inherently powerful poignancy.

Under the direction of the similarly named but unrelated Chuck Smith, the Goodman Theatre world premiere of a play developed through its New Stages Festival is worthy of attention simply for its subject matter, and should instill empathy for the typically grim realities faced by refugees--even those who find a "better life."

I should note here that although seen as part of my longstanding subscription to the Goodman's Albert Theater, Objects in the Mirror is technically still in previews. 

Though partly fictionalized, the two-act play is based on Shedrick Yarkpai, a refugee from Liberia now living in Australia and working as an actor. Playwright Smith met Yarkpai when he starred in one of his plays, and opted to chronicle his journey as the main character in Objects in the Mirror.

Excellently-embodied by Daniel Kyri, who never leaves the stage across two hours, Shedrick is forced to leave behind his mom (Lily Mojekwu) and make his way through multiple refugee camps and numerous obstacles with his uncle (Allen Gilmore) and cousin (Breon Arzell)

Act Two finds Shedrick in Adelaide, Australia, doing some house painting for a wealthy lawyer/government official (Ryan Kitley), whose intentions aren't entirely discernible.

It wouldn't behoove me to reveal many more specifics of Objects in the Mirror's storyline, but truth be told I would be hard-pressed to do so.

The first act focuses largely on Shedrick, cousin Zaza and uncle John slowly making their way through the morass of refugee camps in Guinea and the Ivory Coast but--with the candor of occasionally droopy eyelids on my part--it seemed heavy on talk and light on dramatic action.

Even in discussing the play a bit afterwards, I'm rather unclear about the war situation in Liberia, the threats to Shedrick and the motivations and actions of his cousin and uncle, the latter of whose benevolence and truthfulness are enigmatic--and unresolved--throughout the play.

The driving motivation of Shedrick in Act II seems a bit odd, and I had a tough time sorting through various lies and deceptions to grasp any sense of the truth (within the play itself; here Smith admittedly deviated from real-life events).

I'm well aware that confusion often reigns in real life, including among whatever perceptions I've gleaned about African nations, where rulers and rebels, the noble and murderous, "good" and "bad," etc. is either difficult to discern or in constant flux (or both).

So simply for its heartrending look at the refugee experience and related strife in war-torn Africa, plus terrific performances--especially by Kyri--Objects in the Mirror sufficiently rewarded my time in the theater.

But while it's innately compelling, simply as dramatic entertainment I didn't find the play all that engrossing or--per the above and more--clearly understandable.

Sure, Objects in the Mirror may be closer than they appear, but while my respect for this play is estimable, my admiration only goes so far.

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