new play ‘Relentless’ explores the Victorian era through the life of a black family | Chicago News

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Television and movies have long immersed viewers in the Victorian era.

Now, a new show at the Goodman Theater explores what that time was like for black Americans. Arts correspondent Angel Idowu brings us “Relentless” and explains how this exploration of black history is American history.

Inspired by her love for the Harlem Renaissance and the Victorian era, playwright Tyla Abercrumbie felt compelled to write a story that focused on this period, but from a perspective rarely seen.

“I realized nobody was talking about black Victorians,” Abercrumbie said.

“No one is talking about it yet. Maybe one or two, Madame CJ Walker, WEB Du Bois, but there were countless beautiful black people making a difference in the world, and that’s a lost era,” Abercrumbie said. “It’s important that we remember who we were to know who we can become.”

Set in 1919, the story explores the uncovering of family secrets, history and identity when two sisters, Annelle and Janet, are forced to return home to Philadelphia to settle their mother’s estate after her death. dead. Although fictional, the story highlights certain historical events.

“What they’re looking at in 1919 is the Red Summer Troubles, which happened here in Chicago, which was caused by a young black boy drifting on the wrong side of the lake,” Abercrumbie said.

“When I wrote the play, I was trying to examine, what do we still see that we thought we had conquered?”

Director Ron OJ Parson says that although fictional, “Relentless” is a reflection of the role people of color played during this time, noting that their stories were often left out.

“White and black, Asian, everyone. We were a viable force in this country early on and a lot of those things that we did are still part of our society today because of us,” Parson said.

Hazel Crest’s Roberta Brown agrees, noting the positive and negative parallels between then and now.

“The very idea of ​​black people in the Victorian era is not something we think about,” Brown said. “We’re not free. We’re still struggling. The things she was talking about. The only daughter. It’s about the fear she has. This fact that they live in tumultuous times. It’s 1919 and here we are in 2022, and the problems are still the same.

As the story explores challenges this country might not have overcome, Abercrumbie says her message was not only well received, but understood.

“A Japanese American man came to me after a performance and said he could relate to the newspapers and the mother because his parents were in internment camps and while he was not wasn’t, he understood their fear in the way they raised him,” Abercrumbie mentioned.

“I want to inspire people to move. I want them to come away knowing something more about what we’ve contributed as a culture,” Abercrumbie said. “There is no black history, it is American history. I want people to understand that I’m giving you part of your story, not just mine.

“Relentless” runs at the Goodman Theater through May 8.

Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3


Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of DuPage Foundation Art correspondent.


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