Chicago Theater Review: THE FIRESTORM (Stage Left Theatre at Theater Wit)

by Lawrence Bommer on October 31, 2015

in Theater-Chicago

Post image for Chicago Theater Review: THE FIRESTORM (Stage Left Theatre at Theater Wit)

FUTURE SHOCK FROM A PAST PRANK

In less than 90 minutes this new one-act by Meridith Friedman plays hard: By show’s end we get an absorbing case history in situational ethics. Cautionary scenarios like this usually turn on the audience: What would we do? This is no exception: It’s premise enough for The Firestorm (too extreme a term for its politics-Vance Smith as Patrick and Kanome Jones as Gaby in The Firestorm by Meridith Friedman. Photo by Ian McLaren.as-usual campaign scandal) to turn Stage Left Theatre’s local premiere into engrossing fare. Part of the National Play Network, this offering at Theater Wit is a “rolling” work, already seen at Dallas’ Kitchen Dog Theater and to be mounted next fall by LOCAL Theater in Boulder, Colorado.

The three theaters will experience a useful lesson in the persistence of the past. Drew Martin’s taut staging puts an interracial marriage under the microscope: Columbus crusader Patrick Henderson (Vance Smith) is running for Governor of Ohio (presumably a Democrat based on his interest in education for all Americans). The product of privilege, Patrick’s devoted African-American wife Gaby (Kanome Jones) is an anti-trust attorney unhappy to be groomed for the cameras by bubbly campaign assistant Leslie (Melanie Derleth). Married less than a year, the Hendersons are settling into the similarities (they both love the Rocky movies) that make up for their contrast (different paths to the same choice).

Kanome Jones as Gaby and Vance Smith as Patrick in The Firestorm by Meridith Friedman. Photo by Ian McLaren.

In the midst of a volatile campaign a secret emerges, then erupts, from Patrick’s past. It threatens to derail his hopes for higher office. There’s no statute of limitations for short-sighted stupidity. Here it’s a case of drunken fraternity outrage that not only endangers his election chances but strikes at the heart of the power couple’s partnership (as in “Why did you pick me?”)  The last-minute appearance of Jamal Palmer (David Lawrence Hamilton), the victim of this vandalism, only worsens a shitload of unprocessed pain.

Melanie Derleth as Leslie & Vance Smith as Patrick in The Firestorm by Meridith Friedman. Photo by Ian McLaren.

It’s usually a criticism to refer to the “race card” (a strategy for distraction or muddying the waters). Not with Friedman. It’s the source and soul of this scandal. Bigotry is nothing if not adept at camouflage–but you can also imagine it when the real cause is untested ignorance, the phony innocence of youth. The Firestorm asks its audience either to make judgments or allowances for Patrick and Gaby Henderson. Stage Left’s four performers are potent enough to make this measurement matter. We’re all on the spot as the stage lights fade.

Melanie Derleth as Leslie, Vance Smith as Patrick, Kanome Jones as Gaby, and David Lawrence Hamilton as Jamal in The Firestorm by Meridith Friedman. Photo by Ian McLaren.

photos by Ian McLaren
poster photo by Johnny Knight

Kanome Jones as Gaby & Vance Smith as Patrick in The Firestorm by Meridith Friedman. Photo by Ian McLaren.

Kanome Jones as Gaby and David Lawrence Hamilton as Jamal in The Firestorm by Meridith Friedman. Photo by Ian McLaren.The Firestorm
Stage Left Theatre
Theater Wit, 1229 W Belmont
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 3
ends on November 29, 2015
for tickets, call 773-975-8150 or visit Theater Wit

for info on more Chicago Theater,
visit Theatre in Chicago

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