A powerful and passionate production like Bailiwick Chicago's run of "Dessa Rose" serves as an important reminder that it wasn't so very long ago that slavery was an accepted way of life in this country.
This theater company's Chicago premiere of the two-hour, one intermission musical drama by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, the Tony Award-winning team behind "Ragtime," "Once on This Island" and "Seussical!," continues until April 5 at Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater in Chicago. It is directed with stylized precision by Artistic Director Lili-Anne Brown with music direction by Collective Member James Morehead.
Actress Sydney Charles is phenomenal as the strong and powerful force that embodies Dessa Rose, a plantation slave who refused to accept the life of bondage she has been born into as a life sentence. She is cast opposite special guest artist Jayson "JC" Brooks as Nathan, her life's love.
Actress Harmony France as Ruth, a plantation owner's wife trapped by a weak marriage is a fantastic casting counter for Charles' portrayal of Dessa Rose, as the two spar and unite over the course of their travels. Brilliant David Schlumpf is an obsessed would-be author who desires to capture both escaped slaves and their stories.
The production also features a talent-heavy cast of Chicago names who easily transform into a variety of needed roles as the story moves along. Brigitte Ditmars, Gilbert Domally, Jasondra Johnson, Jaymes Osborne, Steven Perkins, Sasha Smith, Eunice Woods and Pavi Proczko, the latter actor who is especially keen and convincing playing an array of brutal captors.
"Dessa Rose" is based on the noted novel by Sherley Anne Williams and told as an oral history related by two strong women: Ruth and Dessa Rose. It is set in 1847, 14 years before the outbreak of the American Civil War and based on both fact and fiction.
Megan Truscott creates a simple, yet imaginative morphing scenic design and Samantha Jones offers some of the most quick-changing and yet also true-to-era costume designs. With Brian Hoehne's lighting design and Patrick Bley's sound design, the story easily wraps itself around the audience's imagination.
Tickets are $40 (or $30 for groups of 10 or more) at (773) 871-3000 or victorygardens.org. Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater is located in the old Biograph movie theater at 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago in Chicago. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursdays through Fridays and 2 p.m. Sundays.