Discussions on race and gender can often become complicated so quickly that they run the risk of becoming non-starters; conversations that can quickly morph into ignorant shouting matches or become neutered by easy platitudes. The issues of these conversations are often inadvertently carried over into works of art that attempt to create them. It can be difficult to portray these complexities in a work of art when art itself is a subset of the discussion at hand. Don’t Smoke In Bed, however, approaches these topics in such a fresh and uncompromising manner that allows it to gain enough traction to kickstart and challenge your perspectives on gender and race. Through incredibly sharp writing, expertly paced character building, and powerful performances, Chimera Ensemble’s production is well worth your time.
The story follows interracial couple Richard and Sheryl as they start a life together as newlyweds in New York. The couple agrees to be interviewed over a webcam by an unseen journalist for an exposé, who documents them as they open up about their relationship - for better or for worse. The stakes are continuously being raised, as the couple gets pregnant early on in the narrative and the exposé turns into a lucrative book deal. The crux of the story, though, is the reconciliation between the Jamaican-American man and the Irish-American woman as they discuss (and argue) their own perspectives on race, family, education, tradition, love, sex, and society.
The highlights of the production are the way it approaches these topics and the care that went into the building of these characters. Not a single element feels out of place. Not only are the backstories of critical consequence to each character’s perspective, but the writing goes further to incorporate a plethora of everyday minutiae which bring subtle twists and contradictions to each character’s arguments. Each character builds their own moral high ground with every topic, only to be torn down by thousands of little discrepancies and minute biases. Even more impressive are the relevance of the inconsistencies: not only do they expose the internal conflicts of the characters they also serve to expose the larger paradoxes of the beliefs and actions of society at large. It cannot be understated how sparkling and engaging Aurin Squire's writing can get.
All shine will eventually lose its luster if you look at it long enough, however. Even though is is comparatively short at 100 minutes of runtime, the production desperately could have used an intermission. The depth and complexity is so thrilling that it borders on bombardment, something which could easily be remedied by 10 minutes of reflective silence. However, this minor detraction is severely overshadowed by the power of the production.
The execution of the dialogue is bolstered by the strong talent of both cast members. The dynamic performances of both Nicole Fabbri (Sheryl) and Kai A. Ealy (Richard) capitalize on the rich complexities of these people. It is clear that both actors put in an exhaustive amount of work to understand the inner conflict experienced by each of their characters and even more time in understanding how each element relates to a combined chemistry. Chimera Ensemble should be highly commended for how well these actors worked together in the setting created by the talented team.
Review by Ryan Moore
Don't Smoke in Bed continues through July 8 at Collaboraction Studios. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.
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