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Concerto Chicago, Victory Gardens Theater. Chicago playwright Lonnie Carter treats words like skyrockets, jump ropes, weather balloons, and boomerangs. If one won’t serve, he’ll find a new one, and he discovers rhymes in places most balladeers would be too proud to look. His latest “cerebration” is true to the free-associative spirit of his The Sovereign State of Boogedy Boogedy and Lemuel. Its rhapsodic heart is in the right place, but its innards slosh all over the map.
The cast gambol around a rooftop against an almost constant 80-minute musical backdrop, supplied by DJ Misha Fiksel. Rapping and jiving, they capture the spirit of the city through the ghost of Ida B. Wells (Nambi E. Kelley)–furious that her name has been given to an inhuman housing project–and through south-side preacher-politician Lemuel Gulliver (magnificently embodied by E. Milton Wheeler). Curiously, considering the title, Kelley also plays 18th-century slave poetess Phyllis Wheatley and rape victim Europa, while Lisa Tejero depicts assorted Chinese figures the playwright met in 1998 (just after the United States had bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade). There’s also a plea for American humility as we again embark on building an empire.
John Steven Crowley is an ebullient ringmaster, holding Nic Dimond’s grab-bag staging together: beaming like a sunburst, he appears to understand all his lines (that’s powerful acting). Happily, Concerto Chicago offers more personal snapshots of the city than impersonal postcards, but this hodgepodge may not inebriate the audience despite being drunk on its own words.