Coloring Potential, Short Story Theatre, at Chicago Dramatists Workshop. “Not everything down here is a tragedy,” says one of the housing-project residents interviewed in Recalling Trumaine. “If you keep calling it that, that’s what you’ll teach them. That’s what they’ll learn.” Short Story Theatre writers Marco Benassi and Tim Clue’s walk on the south side–specifically, the regions “where the trains don’t stop”–might have come perilously close to doing just that.

“Coloring Potential” is made up of the late Toni Cade Bambara’s 1972 The Lesson, a parable about a teacher sowing the seeds of ambition (or despair); Ann Patchett’s 1984 All Little Colored Children Should Play the Harmonica; and Recalling Trumaine, a series of accounts of a teenager’s shooting death. Bridging these three performances are filmed sequences of adorable black children (though one boy sports a fresh cut over his eye) making adorably wise pronouncements.

What rescues the evening from the hankie-twisting bathos of morally uplifting propaganda are lively performances by Short Story Theatre’s four actors. Under the direction of Benassi and Clue, Lyna Greene, Jonathan Keaton II, Jacquie Coleman, and Dave Causey create almost 30 recognizable human beings, each a distinct individual, whose uncaricatured humor and familiarity make for an entertaining as well as instructive evening. –Mary Shen Barnidge