21 The Epitome of a Theatre production: Stone Soup Theatre project’s long anticipated adaptation of “21, The epitome of Perseverence”

When life hands you lemons, as the saying goes…but when life hands you lemonade add vodka and throw a party! Okay, I’m not quite sure how that relates to a powerfully important theatre reading I attended last night in a Roger’s Park church auditorium, except when the hangover inevitably comes after the party, which of us learns that lesson, and which of us sets out to carry that lesson to others? I know, it’s a stretch, but bear with me.

This chilly mid-October evening I gathered with friends and residents from Rogers park for a reading of Katie Abascal’s stage adaptation of Chris Patterson’s inspiring and potent autobiography “21: The epitome of Perseverance.” Abascal undertook the project a year ago, immersing herself in Patterson’s recollection and lesson about growing up on the streets of Chicago, gangs, racism, prison, choices and resurrection as a force behind organizations like ONE and Ceasefire, which are working to stem street violence. What emerged at this early reading was intimate and visceral theater.

“This is a brand new script,” Alexandra Keels, of The Stone Soup Theatre project, told a gathered audience of about fifty friends and neighbors. “It is a beginning step to what this play will look like.” Adding that she and the cast believe that this play is “important to humanity, but also to Chicago and to a lot of people.”

Joining Patterson and Keels on stage were members of Ceasefire, several members of Stone Soup and Steve Stinson, who stared in a previous Stone Soup production, the critically acclaimed “Tamer of Horses.” Seated together this collection of seasoned and fresh voices began powerfully and confidently with the lyrically structured script. Underneath it all, this is a history of Chicago written from the streets and does not pull a single punch, nor does it make excuses.

But the power of the script comes from the audacity of using the author’s own voice. In ways no one else’s voice would suffice What emerges is stunning and intimate, as “21” Patterson’s gang name as a youth laments not his fate for ending up in prison, but his choices. The audience becomes part of an internal dialogue, as memories, choices, voices and recriminations carry us along the road of Patterson’s life. Ceasefire member, and a man who can relate deeply to Patterson’s experiences with street violence, Willy Dixon is a standout, moving seamlessly and convincingly through a broad range of emotions, and who deftly took on several characters despite having no previous acting experience.

Patterson and Keels afterward talked about the difficulty in bringing such an intimate story to the stage. Patterson relives and relates difficult moments from his own life. A PTSD survivor because of many of those experiences, those experiences never lose their power and potency. But Patterson comes to this with a rare perspective and resolve. He is determined and focused, and comes to his new found purpose with a professorial passion, offering a weighted and experienced lesson to share.

The final rendition of the play opens later in 2014. Given the quality and character of this sneak preview Stone Soup’s adaptation of “21: The epitome of Perseverance” will be a must see when it hits the stage.

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