More proof that the zeitgeist has shifted: at an earlier historical moment
than the one we’re living through now, Stephen Fedo and Tim Rhoze’s new
based-on-fact play, A Home on the Lake, might’ve been presented as the
story of a brave and canny businessman—a sort of African-American George
Bailey—who makes huge sacrifices and absorbs terrible insults to help an
expanding black population buy homes in Evanston during the 1920s.
But that was an earlier historical moment. In this telling, the
businessman, pseudonymously named Leland Fowler, is cast as an opportunist,
an accommodationist, a patsy, and, not incidentally, a sexist who gives
away everything he owns—and a thing or two he doesn’t—for a dubious reward.
The new heroes are black and white women determined to clean up the mess
created by Fowler and his perfidious white financial backer.
Which is fine, except that the update is as flatly didactic as the earlier
version would’ve been. A collaboration between Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre
and the Piven Theatre Workshop, directed by Rhoze, the play is so
determined to make woke points that it ends up cumbersome, contrived, and
dull—an extended teaching moment rather than a living drama. The setup is
ambitious, alternating between Fowler’s time, when the shit is generated,
and the present, when it (sort of) hits the fan. But nobody breaks type and
every conclusion is foregone. Speaking as a native Evanstonian whose Jewish
family arrived in the early 1950s, I can testify that there’s a hell of a
play to be written about bigotry in what used to be called the City of
Churches. A Home on the Lake isn’t it. v