Credit: Jhenai Mootz

Based on true events in 1822 Manhattan, The African Company Presents Richard III, written by Carlyle
Brown, tells the tale of two rival theater companies, one black and one

An appreciation for Shakespeare is widely considered the mark of a
“cultured” person, yet culture is often bred in exclusivity. Who owns
Shakespeare? Can neophytes without training or perfect diction deserve
acclaim? Director Ron OJ Parson expertly highlights Brown’s examination of
respectability politics and code-switching and draws a direct line from
slavery to its racist legacy today in the form of grammar shamers and
“Permit Pattys.”

Brandon Greenhouse gives a poignant performance as a leading man striving
to transcend his circumstances. Matty Robinson shifts seamlessly from
crackling comedy to drama as the ambitious African Theatre owner. Johnny
Lee Davenport delights as Griot Papa Shakespeare, whose imperfect English
belies his mastery of communication as he matches wits with the hilariously
cranky Velma Austin as Sarah, his would-be sweetheart. Jack Hickey is
pitch-perfect as Stephen Price, the rival theatre owner, jovially
delivering discrimination through concern trolling. Joel Ottemheimer adds
refreshing levity as the Constable, and Ariel Richardson shines as Ann, a
vulnerable woman whose role will always be underwritten onstage and in

Fittingly, the show opens with the poem “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence
Dunbar. When the mask finally drops, it shatters. This is a top-notch
mirthful and powerful production at Oak Park Festival Theatre, one of the
most charming theater spaces in all of Chicagoland.   v