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« Chicago-based Films of 2014 LINES Ballet Returns to Harris Theater for Two Shows »

Theater Wed Feb 19 2014

Buzzer: "We are Gentrifiers; We Will be Listened To."

1314BuzzerPP_600x360_1.jpg.gif

Photo by Liz Lauren

The street where I live is quiet. It's lined with trees that bloom in the summer and filled with people who walk their dogs and decorate those same trees with Christmas lights in the too-long Chicago winter. My one-way street has speed bumps, but no buses. I walk alone on my street at night sometimes, and I don't feel in danger.

Two blocks away, it's very different. The busy street fills the air with a riot of noise around the clock. Sirens wail constantly, signaling some new tragedy. Buses fly by. Homeless people stand on the corners begging for change. Neon signs tell me that bodegas and ethnic markets are open; that pawn shops are selling their wares; that dives are slinging drinks. Two blocks from my street, I don't feel safe. My senses are heightened in this electric environment and I am, however wrongfully, quick to judge.

Gentrification is no stranger to Chicago. Everyone has a story like this, but we don't talk about it. It's too messy to bring up issues of wealth, race, sex, understanding and violence and the cost of making the way for a "better" future. The Goodman Theater's production of Tracey Scott Wilson's Buzzer opens that conversation with a powerful, forceful hand.

Buzzer, named for the broken device that connects the set's living room to the unseen outside world, begins like a sitcom. The brilliant, Harvard-educated, African American Jackson (Eric Lynch) and his white girlfriend Suzy (Lee Stark) decide to move back into Jackson's childhood New York neighborhood. Their beautiful apartment, complete with hardwood floors and in-unit washer and dryer, is a stark safe haven in the middle of a troubled city district.

Jackson and Suzy's comedic banter is interrupted by the news that Jackson's best friend, Don (Shane Kenyon), will be living with them for a few months while he gets his feet back under him. Don's checkered past and obligated presence upsets their happy world and drives the first of many stakes into the way the characters view each other, their relationships, and the world around them. The picture-perfect sitcom dissolves into a tale of treachery and disenchantment. There's still a little comedy, thank goodness--the tension would be too much without it.

That being said, if you're looking for a production that will make you feel good, this isn't it. However, Buzzer will make you feel something real--discomfort, anger, passion, and fear--because it strips you down to your very core and inadvertently pushes you to acknowledge your beliefs and their implications. It will move you. Kenyon, Lynch, and Stark deliver a stirring and convincing performance that leaves the audience buzzing with conversation of the complexities of gentrification and the subjectivity of a better, brighter future.

Buzzer makes me look at that homeless man on the corner differently. Maybe he used to live on my street before there were restaurants and rents he couldn't afford anymore--before there were Christmas lights--before it was quiet.

Buzzer plays through March 9 in the Owen Theater at The Goodman, 170 N. Dearborn. Tickets ($10-$40) can be purchased on the Goodman Theater's website, by calling 312-443-3800, or at the box office.

If you're interested in continuing the conversation about urban gentrification, you can attend "Buzzer and Brews." It offers a great chance to hang out with the cast and crew and grab a few beers after you've seen the play and heard from Buzzer director Jessica Thebus. Tickets ($60) are available on the Goodman's website. The event also takes place at the Goodman on Thursday, March 6.

NOTE: Buzzer contains explicit language, themes of sex and violence, and racial slurs. Not recommended for anyone under the age of 18.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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