“The fire is burning. . . It is taking the children / It is eating the future,” sings Ladysmith Black Mambazo in the choral introduction to Steppenwolf Theatre’s The Song of Jacob Zulu. The “fire” is South African apartheid, but the words could just as easily be about America’s own crisis of race and class, and the riots in LA have driven home the inescapable relevance of Tug Yourgrau’s play to our own society. Jacob Zulu, the teenage son of a black minister, is put on trial for bombing a shopping mall, a seemingly random act of political terror that claims black and white lives alike. Jacob’s interrogation, amplified by Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s mournfully lyrical musical commentary, charts the process by which prejudice, poverty, and despair twist a good soul until nihilistic violence seems to be the only mode of behavior possible. Eric Simonson’s powerful staging (for which a limited supply of tickets are still available) treats the drama’s message with the respect it deserves without succumbing to didacticism, and it achieves large-scale theatricality while not letting production values betray the reality of the suffering it depicts. Steppenwolf Theatre Company, through May 24 (1650 N. Halsted, 335-1650). Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 5:30 and 9:30 PM; Sundays, 3 and 7 PM; additional matinee Wednesday, May 20, 2 PM; no 7 PM show the Sundays of May 17 and 24. $26.50-$31.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Brosilow.