Three Black women stand in a row with their fists upraised. We see photos of Black Panther women on the wall next to them.
From left: Jerluane "Jae" Jenkins, Alexis Dupree, and Taylor Elie Talhamé in Panther Women: An Army for the Liberation at Perceptions Theatre Credit: Matthew Gregory Hollis

India Nicole Burton’s Panther Women: An Army for the Liberation has already played at Cleveland Public Theatre and Indianapolis’s Phoenix Theatre as part of the National New Play Network’s rolling world premiere program. But it’s hard to imagine a more apt setting for Burton’s choreopoem in celebration of the women in the Black Panther Party than the South Shore storefront now housing its Chicago premiere. A coproduction of Perceptions Theatre and NNPN member Prop Thtr, it’s an intimate and bare-bones staging—but lacks nothing in passion and insight. The room where it happens bursts forth with all the love, joy, anger, pain, and urgency of the mothers of the revolution, thanks to Perceptions founder Myesha-Tiara’s sharp direction, Deja Hood’s visceral yet graceful choreography, and the performances by the blistering ensemble of seven actors.

Panther Women: An Army for the Liberation
Through 5/27: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 2 PM; 1825 E. 79th St.,, pay what you can ($20 suggested donation)

The show primarily focuses on three women in the Panthers: Angela Davis, Elaine Brown, and Assata Shakur. But their origin stories, while unfolding in different parts of the U.S. (Birmingham, Alabama; Philadelphia; North Carolina) share a common thread of young women determined early on to make a difference for themselves and their people.

Along the way, Burton’s script takes a sharp look at state-sanctioned violence against Black Americans, as well as the misogyny Panther women experienced both outside and inside the movement. The framing device is that they are the voices of the past, helping a contemporary woman out of isolating despair and into a sense of reconnection with herself and her community. Mari DeOle’s set puts us right in the middle of the action, with reproductions of Panther posters and news clippings on the wall giving us the sense of having just walked into a meeting where the women, fed up with being objects of scorn or pity (“What can a Black woman do with pity?” the ensemble asks), have taken charge of their past narratives and the future. It’s a raw, intense, smart, and exhilarating journey.