Javon Johnson's Hambone, billed as a generational play about four black men's struggles in the context of family dislocation and cultural alienation, gets its world premiere at Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago, Jan. 19-Feb. 25.
The script comes to the Windy City nonprofit with a pedigree: It won the 1999 Theodore Ward Competition for African American Playwrights and was a 1999 finalist for the National New Play Award. It was also workshopped at the Sundance Theatre Lab. Press opening is Jan. 29.
The play is set in a South Carolina diner in 1988. According to production notes, it "explores the bonds of friendship, the effects of one's past life, the complexity of father-son relationships, and the music of soul singer James Brown."
Ron OJ Parson directs a cast that includes P. Francois Battiste, Freeman Coffey, Anthony Fleming III, Tom Roland and A.C. Smith. It's 1988, and the Confederate flag still hangs from the state capitol in South Carolina, Jesse Jackson is making history as the first black presidential candidate, and soul brother James Brown has been incarcerated. The visitors to Bishop Tisdale's (Freeman Coffey) diner include Henry (Smith), an embittered ex-football player; Tyrone (Fleming), a 17-year-old youth just looking to get by; Bobbilee (P. Francois Battiste), a 16-year-old boy with an extreme admiration for James Brown; and Harrison (Roland), an elderly white railroad employee in search of salvation.
Hambone previously received readings at Hollywood's Whitefire Theatre, the 1999 National Black Theatre Festival, and the 1999 Edward Albee Theatre Conference. Actor playwright Johnson was the 1999 finalist for the Allen Lee Hughes Fellowship at Arena Stage in Washington, DC, 1999 winner of the Pittsburgh Playwright Award, 1998 winner and 1999 second place recipient of the Lorraine Hansberry Award, recipient of the 1998 Kennedy Center Fellowship to attend the Eugene O'Neill National Playwrights Conference, and winner of the 1998 Best One-Act Play in the American College Theatre Festival Region II Competition. His plays include The Pawn, Papa's Blues, A Noose For BettyAnn, Homebound, The Spanish Jade, A Cryin' Shame, Eighty-Six, and his most recent project, Hobo King, inspired by the homeless in Chicago.
Designers are Mary Griswold (sets), Christine E. Pascual (costumes), Geoffrey Bushor (lights), Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman (sound).
Tickets are $20-$33. Victory Gardens Theater is at 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. For tickets, call the Victory Gardens box office at (773) 871-3000. Visit the website at www.victorygardens.org.
— By Kenneth Jones