16th Street Theater. By Laura Jacqmin. Dir. Ann Filmer. With LaNisa Frederick, Rob Fagin, Kyle Haden, Meghan Reardon. 2hrs; one intermission.
Theater review by Gwen Purdom
Tucked in an unassuming park district basement, Berwyn’s modest 16th Street Theater is just the right stage for the premiere of Laura Jacqmin’s thoughtful new show, Do-Gooder. The carefully-packed script, like its venue, seems routine enough—Jacqmin’s story is confined to one Chicago residence, dotted with the often conventional interactions of two young couples—and yet, as its story and characters progress, a keen complexity and richness peek through that monotonous exterior.
Carmel (LaNisa Frederick) and Gordon (Kyle Haden) are an affluent, highly-educated black couple looking to make a difference by renting out an apartment in the building they just purchased to a less financially fortunate family of their own race, which means pompous Erik (Rob Fagin) and his wife Nora (Meghan Reardon), the white current tenants, will have to go. As the couples begin to bare their true motives and feelings to each other and themselves, a simple premise swells to a satisfyingly challenging one swirling with questions of class, race, charity and self-worth.
Detail is something Jacqmin, winner of the 2008 Wasserstein Prize for emerging female playwrights, and her characters have an exquisite grasp on. Despite some stiffness and the occasional missed dramatic opportunity, the four-person cast here enlivens its relationships with believable intimacy. Frederick and Haden in particular deliver scenes that are as wrenching for what isn’t said as what is, but as a whole all four actors mine those moments with skill.
Still, its Jacqmin’s subtle script that leaves the lasting impression. In a play that ponders whether goodness comes from a life of privilege or passion, this is one story that’s far more compelling than its ordinary cover would suggest.