Review: Chicago Slam Works presents ‘Redlined’

By Antoinette Isama

Chicago Slam Works House Ensemble brings the nooks and crannies of Chicago to light through literary theater. “Redlined: A Chicago Lyric” uses poetry and movement to paint brutally honest portraits of why many have a love/hate relationship with the city. Directed by J.W. Basilio, the cast of J. Evelyn, Rashaad Hall, Shelley Elaine Geiszler, Frankiem Mitchell, Dru Smith and Teagan Walsh-Davis put faces to the names of what makes up the city through the CTA Red Line and the characters that ride it.

This production used the CTA Red Line as a metaphor to explore societal issues in Chicago. From left: Teagan Walsh-Davis, Shelley Elaine Geiszler, Rashaad Hall, J. Evelyn and Dru Smith. (Andy Karol)

The 80-minute production layers vignettes on a bare stage at Stage 773 that show how the Red Line both cuts and connects the North and South Side neighborhoods. They reveal and juxtapose perspectives and experiences by touching on economic inequality, gentrification, police brutality, homelessness and the like.

The anthropomorphic vignettes were among the few comedic reliefs of the show. One vignette brings the parking ticket, orange envelope included, to life. The monologue sarcastically mocks the reaction of the recipients of tickets, while questioning what the money is used for. Another vignette presents three lamppost personalities, symbolizing aspects (and even people) of the city that go unnoticed and are not maintained.

You will hear stories of a mother begging for change so that she and her children can escape domestic abuse. You will grasp students drilling their teacher about why they have to struggle with gun violence and economic inequality. The play offers a deeper look into the words of the man who talks to himself on the train. You will see an infomercial brought to life — touting the glories of being a man able to taunt women in Lakeview.

Chicago Slam Works has been committed to lifting slam poetry to the next level through performance since 2009. For each production, the House Ensemble collaboratively writes the pieces that connect different disciplines such as comedy, movement, spoken word and music through a common theme.

In this production, you will not hear about the skyline, Navy Pier, or the Cubs. “Redlined” takes a poignant look at what it means to be a Chicagoan without holding anything back. The ups and downs of the Chicago experience, and what ordinary people go through on a daily basis are poetically delivered in a raw, authentic way. It makes you think about where you fit in the city. It makes you think about the impact — both positive and negative — of how you treat people and relate to them. It reminds you that everyone has a story. And it reminds us that more needs to be done to make Chicago better — and that change for the better starts with us.

Photo at top: Catch the last performance of “Redlined: A Chicago Lyric” this Friday. (Andy Karol/Artwork by Reggie Eldridge)