Lemuel | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader


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LEMUEL, Victory Gardens Studio Theater. If one man's story can speak for his time, then Lonnie Carter's Lemuel sings it, in jumping jive talk, ragged rhythms, choral chanting, hip-hop tongue twisters, and the rolling thunder of a civil rights sermon. It was similarly rarefied word dazzle that made Carter's The Sovereign State of Boogedy Boogedy--also deftly directed by Dennis Zacek--a ten-course feast for the ears.

Lemuel--the first part of Carter's Gulliver trilogy--chronicles the life of south-side survivor Lemuel Louis Gulliver, but it also stands on its own as an exuberant depiction of one man's 45-year dance with history, from 1942 to 1987. Perfectly focused and framed, these snapshots show Lemuel as a Little Leaguer emulating Jackie Robinson, as a teenager fighting Orval Faubus at the Little Rock desegregation showdown, initiating the 60s by integrating a lily-white Quaker campus, and mixing in 1963 with nutty Nordic blonds in Sweden and in 1965 with B-movie natives during a Peace Corps stint on the imaginary Caribbean isle of Africola. In the soberer second act, Lemuel almost gets lost in his/our turbulent times.

Carter filters our era through Lemuel's telling encounters--with Jordan Teplitz's voluble Jewish shopkeeper, Sarah Willis's knowing college counselor, Alan Kopischke's black-acting Irish priest, Sephus Booker's expansive evangelist, Lisa Tejero's third-world fantasy maiden, and Felicia Ann Bradley as the African-American great-great-granddaughter of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Carl Barnett and Audrey Morgan depict Lemuel's parents as outsize memories. And heading this time trip is E. Milton Wheeler's canny, curious Lemuel, an explorer worthy of Jonathan Swift and of Carter's joyous talespinning. --Lawrence Bommer

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