Review: Not About Nightingales (Raven Theatre)

| May 15, 2017

Joshua J. Volkers and Brandon Greenhouse star in Not About Nightingales, Raven Theatre           

Not About Nightingales

Written by Tennessee Williams
Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark (map)
thru June 17  |  tix: $38-$46  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


When the rules are unjust, we need to break them


Joshua J. Volkers, Rudy Galvan, Tamarus Harvell, Raphael Diaz, Jon Beal, Matthew Garry, Juwan Lockett, Luke Daigle

Raven Theatre presents
Not About Nightingales

Review by Johanna Dalton

Based on real events, Not About Nightingales is Tennessee Williams’ gut-wrenching account of events at a Philadelphia prison in 1937 when prisoners mounted a hunger strike in hopes of bringing to light the horrifying inhumane treatment they endured. Highly controversial in its time and lost for decades, it deals with an issue that unfortunately continues to plague our society today.

Joshua J. Volkers and Rudy Galvan star in Not About Nightingales, Raven TheatreBoss Whalen (Chuck Spencer) is the tyrannical, corrupt warden who runs his island prison so as to accommodate his lascivious desires and line his pockets. His new secretary Eva (Sophia Menendian), desperate for work, takes the job. Eva and inmate assistant, Jim (Brandon Greenhouse), wrestle with the moral dilemma of exposing what they see or keeping quiet to save their own jobs. Events, however, eventually overtake them.

The inmates are led by their de facto leader and veteran inmate, Butch, powerfully played by Joshua J. Volkers, who refuses to be beaten and rallies his fellow inmates in defiance of Boss Whalen. The others in hostile Hall C of the prison include Joe (Rudy Galvan), Butch’s right hand man, and The Queen (Luke Daigle) who is constantly called out for his sensitivities. Matthew Garry gives haunting portrayals first of Sailor Jack, who winds up delusionally singing “Aupres de ma Blonde” as he slowly loses his mind, and secondly as Swifty, the newly arrived former runner who keeps seeking a way to outrun his fate. These excellent performances bring up close and personal the tragic consequences suffered under a prison system that treats its inmates, and even staff, as less than human, including African Americans, Hispanics and homosexuals, you might say equally.

Joshua J. Volkers and Brandon Greenhouse star in Not About Nightingales, Raven Theatre Brandon Greenhouse, Sophia Menendian and Chuck Spencer star in Not About Nightingales, Raven TheatreJoshua J. Volkers, Tamarus Harvell, Rudy Galvan, Raphael Diaz and Brandon Greenhouse star in Not About Nightingales Sophia Menendian and Brandon Greenhouse star in Not About Nightingales, Raven TheatreSophia Menendian, Chuck Spencer, Brandon Greenhouse and JoAnn Montemurro star in Not About Nightingales

Tamarus Harvell’s Ollie (Harvell also plays the prison Chaplain), Raphael Diaz’ Mex, and Krause, played by Juwan Lockett, round out the Hall C inmates with credible performances.

Schultz, the strident whistle-blowing head guard, is played by Jon Beal with cold-hearted zeal, while Kevin Patterson plays prison guard Mac and cooperative new Chaplain, Reverend Hooker. Raven Theatre’s Co-Artistic Director JoAnn Montemurro opens the play as Sailor Jack’s concerned mother, the lone representative of the outside world. Montemurro also fills the role of Goldie, Butch’s old sweetheart.

Daring to expose this troubling issue, Not About Nightingales was deemed too controversial when written in 1938 and thus was not performed until 1998 by the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain and Redgrave Moving Theatre in London. It received its Broadway debut in 1999 at the Circle in the Square Theatre, where it received six Tony nominations, including Best Play, Best Actor, Best Director, and winning for Best Scenic Design.

Joshua J. Volkers, Tamarus Harvell, Rudy Galvan and Matthew Garry star in Not About NightingalesTamarus Harvell and Brandon Greenhouse star in Not About Nightingales, Raven Theatre Brandon Greenhouse and Sophia Menendian star in Not About Nightingales, Raven Theatre

Following on his Jeff Award Winning Direct from Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys (a production we placed on our Best of the Year list), Raven Founding Artistic Director Michael Menendian has assembled a Jeff-winning and nominated team for the staging of yet another piercing and timely social commentary. Their skill and vision contribute greatly to the production’s impact. Jeff-winning Ray Toler’s ominous set design creates a kind of nether world juxtaposed to the elevation of the Warden’s office. Diane D. Fairchild’s lighting design deftly overlays the dark and insular space the inmates occupy that never sees the light of day, and the repetitious jarring stomping as the inmates are marched from Hall C, Heath Hays’ clever sound design, hammers home the brutal edgy atmosphere.

The difficult subject matter, brought to life with such raw impact, at points makes the play heavy-going and hard to watch. But the import of the message conveyed commands, and this production deserves, our full attention. Which of course is Williams’ point.

Rating: ★★★½

Not About Nightingales continues through June 17th at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $38-$46 (students and military: $22), and are available by phone (773-338-2177) or online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 2 hours 20 minutes, includes an intermission)

Kevin Patterson, Rudy Galvan, Tamarus Harvell, Joshua J. Volkers and Jon Beal star in Not About Nightingales

Photos by Dean La Prairie 




Jon Beal (Schultz), Luke Daigle (The Queen), Raphael Diaz (Mex, Guard), Rudy Galvan (Joe), Matthew Garry (Sailor Jack, Swifty), Brandon Greenhouse (Jim Allison), Tamarus Harvell (Ollie, The Chaplain), Juwan Lockett (Krause, Ensemble), Sophia Menendian (Eva Crane), JoAnn Montemurro (Mrs. Bristol, Goldie), Kevin Patterson (Mac, Guard, Rev. Hooker), Chuck Spencer (Boss Whalen), Joshua J. Volkers (Butch O’ Fallon), Christopher Donaldson (u/s Boss Whalen, Schulz, Butch), Rebecca Leiner (u/s Eva), Ricky Quintana (u/s Joe, Mex), Julie Stevens (u/s Mrs. Bristol), Daniel Shtivelberg (u/s Swifty, Sailor Jack).

behind the scenes

Michael Menendian (director), Ray Toler (set design), Alaina Moore (costume design), Diane D. Fairchild (lighting design), Heath Hays (sound design), John Buranosky (properties), Breon Arzell (choreographer), David Woolley (fight choreographer), Jack Bourgeois (assistant director) Cathy Darrow (stage manager), Conor Clark (technical director), Kelly Hovsepian (assistant stage manager), Dean La Prairie (photos)


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Category: Drama, Johanna Dalton, Raven Theatre, Tennessee Williams, Video, YouTube

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