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In the Heat of the Night

(back, l to r) Manny Buckley, Steve Peebles and Joseph Wiens with (front) Tim Newell in Shattered Globe Theatre’s production ofINTHEHEATOFTHENIGHT, adapted by Matt Pelfrey, based on the novel by John Ball and directed by Louis Contey. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Shattered Globe’s IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT is asking the question: how far we have come since the 1960’s and the Civil Rights Movement? The premiere of the novel, the award-winning winning film, and subsequent television series prompted audiences to recognize and evolve their attitudes towards blacks and whites working side by side. In this case to solve a murder. In the South. Under extremely hot conditions.

All the elements in this production seem to work just fine. Acting is solid; lights, set, costumes adhere to the style; the directing keeps a good rhythm. Any fan of the previous variations would most likely agree that this interpretation does the original justice. It’s an all around good ol’ play, a re-telling of a story proven to have grounded points, but it offers little else besides that. Without even seeing this production you can most likely answer the question it poses: we have made some strides with race relations and yet, still must do more and if that’s the point, then, point made. Except that without much urgency or visceral engagement or a new lens, it does nothing for the global conversation today, and with race being a topic of much distress, a topic which the arts could be leading the movement toward equality and embracement, it’s unfortunate that what we are getting is simply a really decent copy.

The Civil Rights Movement is alive and strong today. There are activists out there every day trying to change our collective narrative from how it was (which we all know) to how it ought to be. Dr. King said that “Every step towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” If you want to add to the dialogue, if you want to change the course of social evolution, shake up the safe production tree and ruffle some feathers. Otherwise, it seems like you’re using the topic to sell tickets. In this case to a who-done-it that uses the N-word a lot. In Chicago. And “race” is just so hot right now.

April 25th, 2016

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