With a rousing speech, Viola Davis accepted the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in the film “Fences,” adapted from August Wilson’s 1987 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play. Of course, the role of Rose wasn’t new to the actress since she performed it on the Broadway stage with co-star Denzel Washington during a record-breaking run in 2010. No doubt the time she spent in the character’s shoes provided her with the necessary insights, confidence and path to Oscar gold (not to mention picking up a Golden Globe and SAG Award along the way).
Perhaps a similar road to success is destined for Linda Bright Clay, Donica Lynn, Greta Oglesby, Camille Robinson and Jacqueline Williams, who are currently appearing with Jeffery Owen Freelon, Jr. in “A Wonder In My Soul” at Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago.
While Wilson’s work addresses a working-class African-American man in the 1950s, Marcus Gardley’s world premiere play centers on two African-American women today. The story follows Bell and Birdie, longtime hair salon owners and friends who find themselves at a crossroads. The women must decide whether to stay at their preferred location on the South Side of Chicago or move due to the pressures of gentrification and threat of crime.
Victory Gardens Artistic Director Chay Yew, who also directs the play, says the work is Gardley’s love letter to the South Side of Chicago. According to Yew, Gardley “continues to give passionate voice to a community that has been largely overlooked.
“Against the backdrop of gentrification and change, this Chekhov-inspired play is an intimate portrait of a family of remarkable black women who find home in a local beauty salon. Through their friendship, we witness their relationship to hair, their neighborhood, and their history.”
“A Wonder In My Soul” is the fourth collaboration between Gardley and Yew. The two previously presented “The House That Will Not Stand,” “The Gospel of Lovingkindness,” and “An Issue of Blood.” This time around, the team uses music, poetry, dance and original music by Jaret Landon to convey the evolution of both Chicago’s South Side and the main characters’ friendship.
Under Yew’s direction, the crew includes Kurtis Boetcher (scenic design), Izumi Inaba (costume design), Lee Fiskness (lighting design), Mikhail Fiksel (sound design), Alec Long and Mealah Heidenreich (properties design), and Liviu Pasare (projection design).
“A Wonder In My Soul” performs through March 12 at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln. For details, visit www.victorygardens.org.
Special events and performances include:
March 1: A word-for-word (open caption) performance;
March 2: “College Night: A Wondrous Sight,” featuring a pre-show reception and post-show performances by college artists;
March 5: An audio description performance with a touch tour;
March 5: “Our Miss Brooks 100,” which celebrates the centennial of Gwendolyn Brooks, the first African-American author to receive a Pulitzer Prize; features a pre-show reception and post-show conversation;
March 10: “The Art of Activism.”
Photo information: Greta Oglesby, Camille Robinson, Jacqueline Williams, Donica Lynn, and Linda Bright Clay. Photo by Liz Lauren.