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Review: Tilikum (Sideshow Theatre)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Review: Tilikum (Sideshow Theatre)

Risky, powerful and promising world-premiere

Review: Tilikum (Sideshow Theatre)

Review by Lauren Whalen

Tilikum is full of earned rage and righteousness, an allegory of slavery with the best of intentions. This world premiere has a unique setting and an even more unique way of telling its story, incorporating dance, percussion and one heck of a projection design. Kristiana Rae Colón's script could use some work: is the type of world premiere that will likely undergo revision - or at least it should. Thanks to incredible live music courtesy of a supremely talented trio, not to mention three strong and versatile actors, is a very promising work-in-progress that has the potential to become great art.

Review: Tilikum (Sideshow Theatre)
The title character (Gregory Geffrard) was once king of the ocean, a killer whale who was eager to sire a pod of youngsters and fully enjoy his adult power. Sadly, Tilikum is forced into captivity by the sadistic owner of a marine park (Matt Fletcher), doomed to sleep in a concrete pod at night after being attacked by three female whales. When Dawn (Sigrid Sutter), a naïve but compassionate trainer, feels a special affinity to Tilikum, the two form a loving relationship - but at what cost to each of them? Soon, Tilikum's fellow prisoners urge him to choose between pleasing his masters and what they promise is true freedom.

According to the playwright's note, was inspired by protestors at the 2015 International Assembly of Chiefs of Police in Chicago (one year after Michael Brown was gunned down), and the film "", a documentary that exposed the harsh truths behind the sunny exteriors of marine parks such as Sea World. Characters in communicate in prose and verse, through music and movement. The three killer whales who share captivity with Tilikum are conveyed in large part through onscreen projections. At 90 minutes, the play is short and powerful: a haunting portrayal of the oppressed, forced to sing for their supper and be grateful for the opportunity.

Review: Tilikum (Sideshow Theatre)
Review: Tilikum (Sideshow Theatre)
Review: Tilikum (Sideshow Theatre)
Review: Tilikum (Sideshow Theatre)

When works, it really works. Noelle Simone's choreography is breathtaking, practically the star of the piece. Both Dawn and Tilikum tell their stories through as much dance as they do dialogue, and it's both beautiful and tragic to watch. The other stars of are musicians Coco Elysses, Melissa F. DuPreyand Joyce Liza Rada Lindsey. (Elysses and DuPrey also serve as composers.) Through percussion and diddley bow, the trio speaks the language of the female killer whales, who've banded together to survive their horrific environment and form a complex relationship with Tilikum, the new man in the tank who's expected to get them pregnant. Aided by Paul Deziel 's award-winning projection design, the female whale triumvirate is stunning from beginning to end, the anchors of the piece. All three actors turn out incredible performances, especially Geffrard, who handles challenging movement and pages of dialogue (often simultaneously) with a rude grace that perfectly symbolizes a once-cocky alpha male who's now out of his element.

's failures lie mainly in its script, which tries very hard but, as a whole, isn't quite there yet. While the subject matter is disturbing and powerful, and the intentions good, the allusions to slavery are often heavy-handed when they might be subtle and, thus, more effective. Colón almost doesn't trust her audience to get it, which - if the opening night reactions were any indication - they definitely do. Having a personal stake in a script is all well and good, and once Colón separates herself a bit during revisions, will likely reach the highest of heights as a force to be reckoned with in American theater.

continues through July 29th at Richard Christiansen Theater at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 2:30pm. Tickets are $20-$30 (students, seniors, industry: $15), and are available by phone (773-871-3000) or online through (check for availability of ). More information can be found at (Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission)

Review: Tilikum (Sideshow Theatre)

Photos by Jonathan L. Green

Coco Elysses (Congas, diddley bow, percussion), Melissa F. Du Prey (Barriles, percussion), Joyce Liza Rada Lindsey (Doumbek, percussion)

behind the scenes

Lili-Anne Brown (director), William Boles (scenic design), Izumi Inaba (costume design), Jared Gooding (lighting design), Victoria Deiorio (sound design), Amy Peters (properties design), Paul Deziel (projections design), Coco Elysses (composer, music director), Melissa F. DuPrey (composer, musician), Noelle Simone (choreographer), Isaac Gomez (dramaturg), Chad Hain (technical director), Benjamin W. Dawson, Ellen Willett (production managers), Savannah Clements (stage manager), Jonathan L. Green (photos)

Review: Tilikum (Sideshow Theatre)

Tags: 18-0628, Amanda Fink, Amy Peters, Benjamin W. Dawson, Chad Hain, Chicago Theater, Christian Isely, Coco Elysses, Ellen Willett, Gregory Geffrard, Isaac Gomez, Izumi Inaba, Jaegen Ellison, Jared Gooding, Jonathan L. Green, Joyce Liza Rada Lindsey, Kristiana Rae Colón, Lauren Whalen, Lili-Anne Brown, Matt Fletcher, Melissa F. Du Prey, Melissa F. DuPrey, Noelle Simone, Paul Deziel, post, Richard Christensen Theater, Savannah Clements, Sideshow Theater Company, Sideshow Theatre, Sigrid Sutter, Victoria DeIorio, Victory Gardens Theater, William Boles

Category: 2018 Reviews, Lauren Whalen, New Work, Richard Christiansen Theatre, Sideshow Theatre, World Premier

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