Tuesday, October 8, 2019

REVIEW: A Man of Good Hope at Chicago Shakespeare

South Africa's Isango Ensemble has brought a very entertaining and very deep production to Chicago Shakespeare that tells the odyssey of a young Somali refugee who battles poverty, crime, racism, and xenophobia in his journey across Africa.  The story is told through song and dance, and the 20 member company really works as an ensemble to tell this true story, based on a book by Jonny Steinberg.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents Isango Ensemble’s A Man of Good Hope, based on the book by Jonny Steinberg and adapted and directed by Mark Dornford-May, in the Courtyard Theater, October 4–13, 2019. Photo by Keith Pattinson.

The show features the story of Asad Abdullahi, an 8-year-old boy whose mother is murdered in front of him.  He realizes the need to leave his native Somalia, and follows a path throughout Africa, ending in a township in South Africa where he is bullied and attacked for being Somali.  Despite his travails, he manages to keep his dignity and to persevere.

The performance of the ensemble is stunning, with a number of characters taking on multiple roles, including Asad at various ages.  The direction is simple but effective, and music and dance are throughout the show.  One of my favorite aspects of the show happened as he journeyed through each country-- the country was displayed by the music and dance of that country.  Seeing that was a vivid and immediate reminder of how different each countries culture is.

One of the most moving and enlightening things about the show from a cultural perspective is seeing how South Africans feel about Somalian refugees.  There's a scene in this play that could have been in a play about 1930's Germany.   

Poor native South Africans blame the refugees for taking their jobs, and for the ills and problems that they face, even when they are simply outworking and outhustling them.  Asad and his cousin have their shop ransacked by their customers, who bandy about the word Friend as if it were a weapon.  It was pretty chilling.

Despite the tragedy, there's also a lot of comedy in the show.  The show has an operatic feel, with many of the words being sung.  This makes sense as it is a co-production of the Young Vic and Isango and the Royal Opera.  Almost all of it is in English. 

This is a show worth seeing, and one that will give you a really interesting insight into the life of refugees-- something that is sadly very relevant to our lives today.

A Man of Good Hope is presented at Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Courtyard Theater for a limited engagement, October 4–13, 2019. Single tickets ($60–$90) are on sale now. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Box Office at 312.595.5600 or visit the Theater’s website at www.chicagoshakes.com.

For more information, visit chicagoshakes.com/goodhope.

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