In order to know where you’re going you have to know where you came from. It’s a very true saying. It’s applicable to many situations. In this case it used to describe the Black experience in America. Written, directed and executive produced by Richard Gallons, 1800s vs. 2020 is a play that delves into the world of Black people in the 1800’s as compared to today.
In present day Hezekiah (Demetrius Burrows) is doing his best to be a positive influence on his family. Be a loving and responsive husband, positive male influence for his sister, friend to his brother. He had plans to go to law school but the untimely passing of his mother has left Hezekiah with the responsibility of taking care of the family. His belief in God is a major factor in the decisions he makes and how he navigates in the world, but as of late he is struggling with his faith. His wife Amy (Emma Terrazas) is loving and supportive, helps him out with his teenage sister Kimberly (Lauren Armour) who constantly tries to outsmart him. His brother Joshua (Eric Epps) is working on secretive deal that will turn his fortunes around. Living next door are Mr. And Mrs. Mable (Royce Hargrove and Llyssa Laird), the well-meaning, but also nosy neighbors. Hezekiah and Amy get the idea from the Mables to “spice up” their date night and decide to go to an escape room. Afterwards Amy gets the idea to do a family escape room at home. The escape room is set in the 1800’s and while looking at a picture of a home in the 1800’s, Hezikiah and Joshua are transported back in time.
The two find themselves in a shack on a plantation and Hezekiah comes face to face with himself at the same age. This version of himself turns out to be his great, great, great, great grandfather…Hezekiah (Demorris Burrows…yes, they are twins). Congo (Richard Gallion) and Mary Jane (Carmen Marseille) are father and mother respectively. Along with 1800’s Hezekiah they have another child, young daughter Gracie (Kayla Grace Reed). Their other children are either dead or been sold. Granny (Lynette Shakespeare) sits in a rocking chair off to the side spending most of the play sleeping. She wakes up occasionally to relay to the family what she “sees” in her visions. Hezekiah and Joshua tell them of all changes in the world in 2020 and that things for Black people are much better, but they also admit there are still issues…gun violence, human trafficking (a high number of Black girls are sold into human trafficking) and of course racism. The duo can only be seen by their ancestors and have a front row seat to the atrocities and humiliation they face at the hand of their slave master, Massa (Quinn Nehr).
There are some notable performances Carmen Marseille as Mary Jane shines as loving mother and wife and possess a lovely singing voice. Eric Epps as Joshua, provides moments of humor that I enjoyed though his character harbors a secret. Richard Gallion as Congo brings a quiet resiliency to the role. In fact, the whole cast does a fine job of bringing us into this world and making us care.
1800’s vs. 2020 runs at the APC Theatre, 11401 S. Vincennes Ave, Chicago IL. 60643. Showtimes are 2pm and 7pm on 2/19, 4pm on 2/20. February 27th will be a live stream at 4pm. Tickets are $40.00.
This play tackles very difficult subjects. Ones that as a society we would rather not discuss. From the epidemic of gun violence to human trafficking. Parallels are made between today and the past that are hard to ignore and while there are moments of joy and levity a shadow of slavery hangs over this play.
Photos: Courtesy of 1800s vs. 2020