Ntozake Shange and Guillermo Gomez-Pena

This week Steppenwolf’s “Traffic” series offers up two high-profile cultural critics, performance artists from America’s ethnic borderlands: Ntozake Shange and Guillermo Gomez-Pena. In an interview this week, series curator Kahil El’Zabar–a percussionist who will accompany Shange’s piece Ellington Is Not a Street–commented that he chose this pairing because, while both artists skillfully skewer racism, there’s still “a sense of the open-ended child in both their spirits.” But audiences should expect to be prodded more than tickled by the duo, who will perform separately. Shange–perhaps best known for her Obie-winning play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf–is a brash African-American who uses explicit sexuality and jazz poetics to challenge stereotypes of black womanhood. Gomez-Pena–winner of a MacArthur “genius” grant–confronts audiences with a raw, mythopoetic machismo that parodies white fears and fantasies about Latino men. Both performers have a reputation for cutting-edge, improvised, and sometimes uneven experiments. They’ll make a provocative pair. Steppenwolf Theatre Company, 1650 N. Halsted, 312-335-1650. Monday, July 20, 7:30 PM. $25. –Carol Burbank

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Ntozake Shange photo by Jeffrey St. Mary.