Playwright: John Conroy. At: TimeLine Theatre Company, 615 W. Wellington Ave. Tickets: 773-281-8463 or www.timelinetheatre.com; $32-$42. Runs through: July 29
Be aware that the world premiere of John Conroy's My Kind of Town at TimeLine Theatre is not a musical. Sure, that title may prompt you to think of Frank Sinatra's crooning voice, but My Kind of Town is actually a serious affair looking at the police torture scandal in Chicago of the past few decades.
Conroy is well-positioned to dramatize this uncomfortable subject, since he has been researching and reporting on this scandal for the Chicago Reader since 1990. Though Conroy utilizes fictional characters in his drama, their personal dilemmas are undoubtedly amalgamations of the people and situations he encountered during his years reporting on the story.
The drama picks up when death-row inmate Otha Jeffries (Charles Gardner) hurls loads of foul-mouthed vitriol at his new pro bono lawyer, Robert Morales (Derek Garza). Yet once Morales hears Jeffries' story of how his confession was obtained through police torture, Morales goes on a crusade to try and get the conviction overturned.
Yet not everyone is happy about Morales' drive to get Jeffries released. Those accused of being directly or indirectly complicit are unsettled to different degrees, including the state's attorney worker Maureen Buckley (Maggie Kettering), former police detective George Dawson (A.C. Smith) and long-time police detective Dan Breen (David Parkes). Breen's wife, Ann (Danica Monroe), and his sister-in-law, Peg (Carolyn Hoerdemann), must also question whether the accusations are true.
But in an interesting twist, Conroy also shows Jeffries' divorced parents, Rita (Ora Jones) and Albert (Trinity P. Murdock), as being not entirely happy about this drive to free their son. On one hand they both want truth and justice to prevail, but neither really wants the stress and burden of dealing with their angry and prison-hardened son if he is released.
Conroy paints his timely drama with thoughtful shades of gray, prompting the audience to invest both in the personal issues of his characters and the moral issue of torture itself as a device to obtain confessions to solve local crimes or defend national security. Conroy increases the tension by showing each of his characters' personal dilemmas as the trial approaches, and he also throws in surprise twist near the end to complicate all previous assumptions.
Director Nick Boling and his artistic ensemble do an expert job at humanizing Conroy's characters and pulling you into the drama of their own complicated situations and moral tests. My Kind of Town questions the complicity we all have when it comes to torture, whether it's turning a blind eye or refusing to speak up. My Kind of Town definitely unsettles and provokes, which is the mark of a dramatic job well done by Conroy and the combined forces of TimeLine Theatre.