A Freak Beyond Compare, Harassing Chicago Productions, at Union Park auditorium. This raw examination of decay in a south-side neighborhood reveals how drugs and gang violence have driven out a sense of community. The narrator is a woman who’s returned to her mother’s house only to find that it no longer feels like home. She tells us about Jeremiah, the violent youth she blames for the ugliness in her cherished neighborhood.

The fundamental problem with Donald Williams’s play is that he shows us little of the Jeremiah she and the other characters abhor, a murderer and thief who scores drugs for his crack-addicted mother. Instead the playwright focuses on Jeremiah the victim, an awkward young man trying to express his pain through poetry. Only a few moments played downstage during other characters’ monologues illustrate why he’s loathed–there’s a huge disjunction between the unfortunate youth we’re shown and the troublemaker he’s said to be.

Standouts among the strong performances include Abdul-Malik as Jeremiah and Andrea Wukitsch as his strung-out mother. But the play itself is transparent, and the ending is terribly unsatisfying. The problems facing a community overtaken by crack deserve to be explored, but Williams needs to build a richer dramatic framework for his political points.

–Jenn Goddu