I’m close to this story in any number of ways. I lived only a few blocks from the streets Chris Patterson was fighting over as a member of notorious street gang, near enough to hear the gunshots at night. Chris lives only a few blocks away from me now. We are friends. His book, 21: The Epitome of Perseverance, Authorhouse 2009, read to me like a street history of the Chicago I knew. The book is honest, painful in places and intimate as it follows Chris’ personal journey of self redemption and recrimination. The task of adapting properly to the stage required overcoming a number of daunting obstacles.
The book takes place over much of Patterson’s life. The narrative, like the rendering of any life, is a complex journey. Patterson’s is perhaps more complex given the moralistic tangent of the book; a lesson and a rebuttal for anyone who asserts that a person cannot change. Here is the reply to that narrow perspective. But much of the book takes place in prison after Chris succumbed to a pivotal choice to rob a bank, one in a series of crossroads which to younger eyes might seem a predetermined path. The challenge to playwright Katie Abascal is how to render those moments and choices on stage, tell the story accurately and maintain a voice that is true not only the book but the street as well.
Brought to the Stage by Stone Soup Theatre Project, the audience is less a passive theatre patron as a invitee to the intimate conversations and memories within Chris Patterson. The honesty of the book comes forth readily in a powerful and quietly lyrical script from Abascal which helps to create a cultural narrative without becoming distracting or burdensome. The center stage becomes the focal point for the 90 minute composition and serves as the prison cell for the older Chris, now struggling with recriminations and regrets.
That Chris is played by a moody and regretful Ian Deanes, desperately appealing to his younger self, fending off memories and temptations. The younger Chris matures through an arc ably rendered by actor Aaron Mitchell Reese. There is energy and a natural synchronicity to the talented and passionate cast. Directed by Alexandra Keels and Whitney Kraus Jones, Stone Soup succeeds in muddling the Fourth Wall, the so-called barrier between actors and audience as mere spectators. The production swirls around and behind the audience, building to a crescendo, helping to sweep the audience into that intimate and dramatic conversation taking place within Chris. It is a story which transcends the life of one man, and instead serves as a guidepost for each of us, and to the troubled times and street violence that still plagues us.
Aided by donations the play is a steal at $5 per ticket, and would be a bargain for a piece of this caliber at $15 or $20 per ticket. Performed at the new Wilson Abbey theatre, 935 West Wilson, Run Chris Run is part of an ongoing anti-violence campaign. Don’t be fooled by the café out front. The theatre is located within Everybody’s Coffee. Seats are limited. The play runs until November 8th Fridays at 8pm and Saturdays at 4pm. Doors open at 7:30 and 3:30 respectfully. Everybody’s Coffee is open daily from 6:30am weekdays and 7am weekends. For tickets to Run Chris Run, show times and more about Stone Soup Theatre Project, visit Artful.ly/StoneSoupTheatreProject and http://www.stonesouptheatrechicago.com. Chris Patterson’s book, 21: The epitome of Perseverance, is available at Amazon.com.
WC Turck is an author, artist, playwright and talk radio host in Chicago. He has been called the most dangerous voice on the Left. He is currently working on a new book “Shoot Down: An unflinching look at the events leading up to the shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17.” His first novel, “Broken” was recommended by NAMI for its treatment of PTSD. In 2006 he published “Everything for Love,” a memoir of his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. He wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He works with the homeless and foreclosure victims in Chicago. He partners in a weekly radio show dedicated to issues, society and politics with cohost, activist and artist Brian Murray For more information, past shows, videos and articles, visit www.revolutioandbeer.com