Review: Plantation! (Lookingglass Theatre)

| March 14, 2018

Ericka Ratcliff, Louise Lamson, Grace Smith, Tamberla Perry and Lily Mojekwu            



Written by Kevin Douglas
Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan (map)
thru April 22  |  tix: $40-$75  |  more info    
Check for half-price tickets   


Smart and probing world premiere will make you roar with laughter while challenging your thoughts on race


Ericka Ratcliff, Louise Lamson, Grace Smith, Tamberla Perry and Lily Mojekwu

Lookingglass Theatre Company presents

Review by Lauren Whalen

Lookingglass Theatre Company ensemble member Kevin Douglas made waves with 2016’s highly-recommended Thaddeus and Slocum, a raucous exploration of segregation in turn-of-the-century vaudeville. Douglas returns to Lookingglass with the world premiere of Plantation! Unlike Thaddeus and Slocum, it’s set in the present, but the racial issues prevalent in the early 1900s remain. In 2018, what do “reparations” look like? How are those who directly benefited from the abuse of people of color (which, let’s face it, is literally every white person whose family has lived in this country for more than a generation) making things right? Is it possible to make things right at all? Plantation! is a sharp, darkly funny 95-minute roller coaster, expertly directed by ensemble member David Schwimmer and beautifully acted by an all-female cast.

Tamberla Perry, Ericka Ratcliff and Lily Mojekwu star in Plantation, Lookingglass TheatreLillian Wright (Janet Ulrich Brooks) is an intelligent, genteel widow who lives with her three adult daughters at her Texas family home. They’re wealthy thanks to the family company, which sells cotton picked from their own plantation. When Lillian discovers that the family patriarch not only owned slaves but fathered a child with one, she tracks down the other Wrights in Chicago and invites them to Texas to stay. Not just that: Lillian offers the Chicago Wright sisters the deed to the family plantation, on the condition that all three agree to sign. Naturally, this is shocking news to Lillian’s three daughters, who will stop at nothing to keep their home just as it is.

Douglas is a thoughtful and thorough writer, never exploiting emotional moments or taking the easy way out. For example, middle Wright sister Sydney (Ericka Ratcliff) is a Black Lives Matter activist, but her activism isn’t played for laughs (though her attempts at slam poetry bring a much-needed comic relief). Plantation! is refreshing in not only its subject matter, but also the fact that it’s a female-driven story with no men in the cast – and it’s not about the struggles of being a woman. Both sets of sisters have realistic dynamics and complex relationships – only eldest sister Kimberly, a divorced reality show hopeful who loves to shop, is more of a caricature, but Louise Lamson is so sorority-girl evil it almost doesn’t matter. (And the character’s terrible racism absolutely exists.)

Linsey Page Morton, Lily Mojekwu and Ericka Ratcliff star in Plantation, Lookingglass TheatreLouise Lamson and Hannah Gomez star as Kimberly and Diana in Plantation, Lookingglass Theatre Louise Lamson, Janet Ulrich Brooks, Linsey Page Morton, Grace Smith star in Plantation, Lookingglass TheatreLily Mojekwu, Ericka Ratcliff and Tamberla Perry star in Plantation, Lookingglass Theatre Janet Ulrich Brooks stars as Lillian in Plantation, Lookingglass TheatreTamberla Perry, Louise Lamson and Linsey Page Morton star in Plantation, Lookingglass

Schwimmer is a methodical and smart director, staging the play’s quieter scenes and madcap moments with grace, and respect for the characters with integrity. Courtney O’Neill’s set is a stunning rendition of an old Southern home, supplemented by Christine A. Binder’s lovely lighting design, which perfectly simulates sunlight streaming through the large glass windows. Mara Blumenfeld has fun with the antebellum gowns for the Wright family dinner, and stage manager Ari Clouse works every single transition with incredible skill. The women are wonderfully cast: standouts include Ratcliff, Brooks and Hannah Gomez as Diana, the cleaning woman’s daughter with an agenda of her own.

I have one qualm with the show however – I wish Douglas would have delved deeper into Lillian’s motives for giving away the plantation. So much philanthropy is self-serving, and I do wish the Chicago Wright sisters had asked, “are you doing this for us or for you?” Despite this, Plantation! is a strong Southern cocktail of tough questions, secondhand embarrassment and surprisingly light comedy. Douglas is a stellar playwright, and Plantation! is a darkly comic romp that challenges its audience to the fullest.

Rating: ★★★½

Plantation! continues through April 22nd at Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan (map), with performances Wednesdays at 7:30pm, Thursdays 2pm & 7:30, Fridays 7:30pm, Saturdays and Sundays 2pm & 7:30pm.  Tickets are $40-$75 (students w/ ID: $20), and are available by phone (312-337-0665) or online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 95 minutes, no intermission)

Linsey Page Morton, Janet Ulrich Brooks, Louise Lamson and Grace Smith star in Plantation

Photos by Liz Lauren




Janet Ulrich Brooks (Lillian Wright), Hannah Gomez (Diana Soto), Louise Lamson (Kimberly Wright), Lily Mojekwu (London Wright), Linsey Page Morton (Kara Wright), Tamberla Perry (Madison Wright), Ericka Ratcliff (Sydney Wright), Grace Smith (Kayley Wright)

Understudies: Kierra Bunch, Erica Elam, Susan Fay, Ebony Joy, Erin Long, Aysette Munoz

behind the scenes

David Schwimmer (director), Courtney O’Neill (scenic design), Mara Blumenfeld (costume design), Christine A. Binder (lighting design), Rick Sims (sound design, composer), Amanda Herrmann (properties design), Eva Breneman (dialect coach), Ari Clouse (stage manager), Sarah Burnham (production manager), Liz Lauren (photos)


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Category: 2018 Reviews, Lauren Emily Whalen, Lookingglass, New Work, Video, Water Tower Water Works, World Premier, YouTube

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