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Review: Blackademics (MPAACT Theatre)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Review: Blackademics (MPAACT Theatre)


Written by Idris Goodwin
Directed by Marie Cisco and Shepsu Aakhu
at Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
thru Nov 25  |  tickets: $25   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets  



Who is down with the people


Review: Blackademics (MPAACT Theatre)


MPAACT presents



Review by K.D. Hopkins

Blackademics will ring true with every educated Black person who has been accused of not being down with the people because of academic pursuits. The scarier part of this play is the truths being spoken about the internal war between Black people that has been going on for generations in America. Playwright Idris Goodwin presents two Black female professors who have been frenemies for years. The push for tenure and publishing is presented with new difficulties in a “post-Black America”.

Ann (Demetria Thomas) is a professor at a small liberal arts college. Rachelle is a professor at a state university. Ann invites Rachelle to dinner at an out of the way café that she heard about for its exclusivity. Ann gets to the unnamed café first and is greeted by an odd and menacing server named Georgia (Kate McCandless).

There are no table chairs or menus at this place and Georgia takes Ann’s cellphone because she needs to allow the experience to happen. Ann is appalled but decides to stay anyway. Ann wears the garb of a Black Studies professor at a small liberal arts college. She is adorned with cowrie shells and hand printed. She wears her hair natural – all of the accoutrement and carriage of ‘educated Blackness’ is in this character. Ann has the earnestness of a person who was a first in the family or the example to set. Thomas does a stellar job with the role. The role is wisely written without the uber-dignified posing that was endemic in roles about Black academics or authors. To Ann, the need to fit in with greater society is no longer necessary in ‘post-Black America’. When Rachelle (LaNisa Frederick) arrives at the café, the façade begins to fall for both women.

Review: Blackademics (MPAACT Theatre)

Rachelle is a professor at a state college and immediately there are remarks about how hard it is to prove oneself in either environment. The liberal colleges demand more, Ann says. Rachelle counters that they have it easier with smaller classes and more privileged students. Ann accuses the State universities of having less prestige and then announces that she has received tenure before dropping the being-published-as-well bomb.

Frederick projects the crestfallen emotions and anger so beautifully. The rage and defeat are so obvious but there is an icy veneer of keeping her cool. It’s not easy to pull off, but Frederick does. Thomas does a great job of making a pretense that her competitor can be her friend for the evening and celebrate. Thomas has a mischievous look on her face, which makes peer’s masked rage appropriate. Ann and Rachelle know that they are “playing the dozens” academically*, but then Georgia takes the stakes up higher by forcing them to compete for basic survival out in the middle of nowhere.

Kate McCandless is both scary and comical in the role of Georgia. She has a Carol Burnett vibe going on in making the odder moments funny. She carries out a table to the empty restaurant and is very precise in its placement in a funny touch. The chair is produced after Ann and Rachelle have one of many verbal sparring rounds. Salad is given without utensils after Georgia determines that Rachelle is at the State not the U which is more prestigious. The hors d’oeuvre is brought after Rachelle goes into a Black rage rap replete with pouring some of the water out for the deceased who could not be there.

The moments that the rivals agree on reveal family problems. Ann has a brother who has troubles with drugs, spiting his own genius. Rachelle reveals that she has been fired for not being ethnically diverse enough even with being Queer, Black, and a woman. Her partner wants to have a baby and money is tight. Goodwin cleverly weaves in the compartmentalization of America for persons who don’t comport themselves in the matter of what was the majority. It is supposed to be post-Black or White America with the implications of diversity taken for granted. There is supposed to be no need for Black History Month and Rachelle points out that one of her students had no idea how Carter G. Woodson figured into American history.

There is a comical tossing about of Black stereotypical food when Rachelle tells Ann that she drank the Kool Ade, ate the watermelon and then the chicken – not grilled or broiled, but fried. It is clever homage to Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” when every stereotype about ethnicity is viscerally spewed. When the server reveals her sinister purpose, it is evident that the infighting was part of making one more vulnerable than the other. Ann cannot fight for herself and Rachelle cannot fight for her. You will have to go to the play to see how it all plays out.

I recommend Blackademics for the clever and revealing writing. The timeliness of the subject matter is perfect. The acting will keep you watching whether out of curiosity or intimate knowledge of being educated and Black in America. The show will inspire some great and possibly heated discussions, and that is the purpose of good art whether it is theater or other mediums.

* Playing the dozens is a Black American colloquialism for one-upping an opponent with clever insults.


Rating: ★★★



Blackademics continues through November 25th at Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map), with performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 3:00 pm.  Tickets are $25, and are available by phone (773-404-7336) or online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 90 minutes, no intermission)

Review: Blackademics (MPAACT Theatre)

Photos by Shepsu Aahku




LaNisa Frederick (Rachelle), Demetria Thomas (Ann), and Kate McCandless (Georgia)

behind the scenes

Marie Cisco (co-director); Shepsu Aakhu (co-director, photos, set design); Jared Gooding (lighting); Evelyn Danner (costumes); Daryl Charisse (stage manager); Larry Nance (sound design); Red Clay (original live music)

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