Rhodessa Jones | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Rhodessa Jones 

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Born to migrant-laborer parents, Rhodessa Jones is an actress, singer, dancer, writer, and teacher based in San Francisco. She has often collaborated with her brother, New York choreographer Bill T., but she is a fine performer in her own right. In her latest work, Big Butt Girls, Hard Headed Women (with music and stage direction by Idris Ackamoor, her partner of many years), Jones again shows that she is an artist of great majesty, power, fire, poetry, raw nerve, and beauty. Like The Legend of Lily Overstreet, which drew on Jones's short stint as a nude dancer and was shown here at CrossCurrents in 1985, Big Butt Girls is based on personal experience--this time from her five years spent teaching theater at San Francisco's city jail. The show has plenty of funny moments and carefully constructed characters but, unlike much of her previous work, it is a dark piece overall. Many of the characters' pasts feature abusive men, teenage motherhood, crack addiction, and family breakups. The title of the piece refers not only to the starchy prison diet that brings on extra physical padding but also to the psychic armor that many women in prison feel they must cultivate in order to survive. Jones says the weight many of these women carry with them almost appears as "an army following close behind." She has made a major commitment to helping incarcerated women, ex-convicts, and "women at risk" in setting up the Medea Project, which aims to help women explore theatrically what has kept them in the revolving door of the penal system. Link's Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield, 281-0824. April 16 through 18: Friday-Saturday, 8 PM; Sunday, 7 PM. $7. Then at the Black Ensemble, 4520 N. Beacon, 769-4451. April 24 and 25: Saturday, 8 PM; Sunday, 4 PM. $15.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lorraine Caparell.

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