The Death of the Black Jesus | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Death of the Black Jesus 

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The Death of the Black Jesus, Chicago Theatre Company. The recent release of FBI records concerning surveillance of the Black Panther movement during the 1960s and '70s has sparked two plays on the topic of forging solidarity among African-Americans. But where Robert Alexander's Servant of the People!! (produced last June by National Pastime Theater) traced the history of the movement, David Barr's The Death of the Black Jesus looks at its legacy.

Following the shooting death (allegedly drug-related) of Bobby Wright, founder of the Black Jesus Party some 25 years earlier, three of its members are assembled for a TV talk show: Cassandra, who carries on the party's social programs; Jonathan, a quiet blue-collar worker nostalgic about his glory days; and Rakim, a convert to Islam newly discharged from prison. Though all three are suspicious of their buffoonish but slyly persuasive host--the smarmy Steven "Downs's Town" Downs--the prospect of a public forum is too tempting to pass up.

In Barr's deftly crafted script, the episodic structure of a television show provides a means of addressing issues both past and present. Douglas Alan-Mann directs a disciplined cast led by Cherise Thurman, Freeman Coffey, and Robert W. Barnett as the three ex-radicals, with stellar support from Morocco Omari as the exploitative Downs and Clifton Williams as the doomed Bobby. Chalk this one up as another winner for the multiple-award-winning Chicago Theatre Company.

--Mary Shen Barnidge

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