“Presence in the midst of chaos.”
Hansol Jung’s gripping drama “Cardboard Piano,” directed by Mechelle Moe now playing in its Chicago premiere at TimeLine Theatre Company, opens on a hopeful, uplifting note at the beginning of the new millennium with marriage vows between two young lovers. The problem is that the church is located in Northern Uganda and the lovers are women, a union that is strictly forbidden in a climate of civil war and the ruthless domination of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Considering the enormous risks involved, the two forge plans to escape as the bloody conflict raging around them threatens to consume their lives.
At the center of the star-crossed love story are the remarkable performances of Adia Alli (Adiel) and Kearstyn Keller (Chris), both making stunning TimeLine main stage debuts, as are each of the four actors in the company who carry the urgency and suspense of Part I, set on New Year’s Eve 1999, to Part II, occurring on another wedding anniversary 14 years later. Moe establishes a powerful emotional bond between Alli and Keller early on which results in a sensitvity and presence in the midst of chaos.
The civil strife, warring factions, and the LRA’s child soldier policies, is embodied in Pika portrayed by Freedom Martin. A senior at The Chicago High School for the Arts, Martin gives a fine multi-layered performance. In a stroke of stellar casting, Kai A. Ealy rounds out the cast in a pair of pivotal roles.
There are two parables residing at the core of Jung’s richly paced story about the power of the human spirit to survive in the face of adversity and the devastating consequences of racism, homophobia and intolerance. In the end, the most essential character element to achieving absolution and forgiveness is empathy, a message Jung delivers with resounding clarity.
Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s superb chapel interior stage design completely incorporates the space with audience on two sides. When framed in Brandon Wardell’s intricate lighting design, Elle Erickson’s costumes and David Kelepha Samba’s sound, the erupting conflict outside is startlingly real.
Jung’s riveting dialogue in “Cardboard Piano,” born from a unique, informed and international perspective, with the inspired performances of an emerging group of talented actors, will certainly stay with you.
TimeLine Theatre Company
through January 27th
615 W. Wellington Avenue
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