A Huey P. Newton Story

It seems Roger Guenveur Smith based his startling one-man show A Huey P. Newton Story on one simple fact: there’s nothing entertaining about Newton or the political life that both inspired and destroyed him. Rather than provide a neat biography of the political activist, philosopher, poet, and crack addict, Smith forces his audience to stomach a mock press interview, as a wired and at times nearly incoherent Newton squirms and flails like an insect pinned to a corkboard. It’s something of an endurance test to witness his bursts of poetry and paranoia, brilliance and buffoonery, as he sits behind a microphone and fidgets under the audience’s gaze as if their attention made his skin crawl. But given the turmoil of Newton’s short life–he was cofounder of the Black Panther Party, an acquitted murderer, a political exile, and a doped-up recluse–only an evening this unsettling could do the man justice. Smith is an electrifying performer, piecing Newton’s writings and recorded interviews into a thrillingly contradictory portrait of a tortured visionary; ultimately he forces us to wonder why Newton’s furious demands for “revolutionary” changes like adequate health care, education, and job training for the poor are still unmet. Museum of Contemporary Art, theater, 220 E. Chicago, 312-397-4010. February 19 through 21: Friday-Saturday, 8 PM; Sunday, 3 PM. $15. –Justin Hayford

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Roger Guenveur Smith photo by Jay Blakesberg.