Youth violence in Chicago – it’s all gang-related, right? Of course not, but political spinmanship notwithstanding, the local arts scene has incorporated the theme of youth violence into its raison d’être and, once there, it’s a rock-solid topical social issue.
Giving some credit where it’s due, Collaberaction’s Crime Scene, a Chicago Anthology was a stunning kickstart to the currency of youth violence among local live theater productions. By broad concensus, Collaberaction hit a home run with Crime Scene and apparently it has a sequel in the works for this summer. Not to be outdone by the spunky Wicker Park mainstay, Steppenwolf produced How Long will I Cry?: Voices of Youth Violence. Steppenwolf inculcated the local arts and theater scene with mainstream credibility for exploring this too-relevant topic. Now comes A Red Orchid Theatre with Our City, Ourselves. It is a performance by some of Chicago’s most gifted young actors that is, quite frankly, sublimely powerful.
Our City, Ourselves weaves several stories – all cultivated from its young cast based on real-life experiences – into a complex, nuanced presentation of the many ways that violent and bullying behavior is “tolerated” by its victims, its witnesses and its progenitors. This 60-minute drama flies by, and I was struck by the originality, sophistication and authenticity of the play, the performances of the actors, the effectively spartan staging, and the musical score the keeps the intertwining plots, well, intertwined. I went in half-fearing some trite, pandering experience but came out thrilled with the time spent among extremely bright and capable people whose words and performances profoundly evolved my own thoughts for the various lives as lived and threatened in Chicago. A truly superb experience. The post-performance interactive discussion with the cast members was a real eye-opener. These young actors are not your garden-variety fragile flowers. They are adult professionals to the core.
Regretfully, the final performance of this limited run of Our City, Ourselves is scheduled for this Saturday, May 18th, at noon. It should be an unlimited run and should not be missed by anyone who wants or needs a reality-based grasp of the nature of tolerance as perpetualed and experienced on the streets, in the home, at school, among friends and acquaintances, and in cyberspace.
We Like Our City, Ourselves. A lot.