Playwright: Anthony Moseley ( also director ) and Adam Seidel. At: Collaboraction at Flat Iron Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: 312-226-9633; www.collaboraction.org; $15-$30. Runs through: June 21
When I was in my 20s I was busted for minor marijuana possessionthen still a misdemeanor. As a first-time offender, I attended a 10-week state's attorney program. Every Saturday I gave a urine specimen and participated in group counseling, and charges were dropped. The problem was the scheme didn't distinguish between marijuana and heroin. It was run by 12-step program leaders and former addicts all convinced that marijuana invariably led to hardcore addiction. Ain't so, McGee.
Crime Scene: The Next Chapter unhappily brought this back to me. This third annual edition of Collaboraction's effort to combat urban violence is too 12-step for me, too one-size-fits-all, especially at the beginning, when audience members cannot sit but must mingle onstage with cast members. When the performance does begin, viewers are asked to hold hands, asked at random to comment on Chicago and challenged to share complicity for Chicago's endemic violence, which is traced back to 1818 race laws when Illinois became a state ( before Chicago was incorporated ). The lengthy opening history lesson jumps to the Civil War's Camp Douglas, the Everleigh Club whorehouse ( 1900 ), Al Capone ( 1930s ), redlining ( 1950s ), the Robert Taylor Homes, John Burge and corrupt politicians among other examples and implies a cause-and-effect link between them and today's criminal violence. I don't buy it.
When the show's heart finally rolls, it presents five true-life histories of Chicago individuals who overcame violence to become community leaders and beacons of non-violence and hope in our city. They are inspired, courageous and unique people whose endurance humbles me. Some are well-known, such as the parents of Hadiya Pendleton; some are less-known ( perhaps especially in the white community ), such as rap poet/gymnast Sir Taylor ( founder of Example Setters Youth Poetry ). Some have stories of moving and unexpected compassion, such as Project NIA founder Mariame Kaba.
As profound as the personal stories are, the production is discomforting ( even beyond the opening ) for two reasons. The first is that the ensemble of nine ( among them two of the actual story heroes, Sir Taylor and Luis Crespo ) tells us rather than shows us the tales. We're given bald narrative, even bullet points, rather than being allowed to discover characters and connections. The exception is professional actor Crespo, who takes on multiple characters in a compelling show-within-the-show. The second reason is more serious: The show focuses exclusively on violence in minority communities. Surely violence in Chicago has no boundaries of race or neighborhood?
Crime Scene: The Next Chapter is performed with energy and directness, much of it moving and compelling. Unfortunately, its opening pushed me away rather than pulled me in, and some of the writing ( such as the TV newsroom scene ) is heavy-handed and unnecessary.