Review: Tilikum (Sideshow Theatre)

| July 2, 2018

Gregory Geffrard and Sigrid Sutter star in Tilikum at Sideshow Theatre 



Written by Kristiana Rae Colón   
Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map)
thru July 29  |  tix: $20-$30  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets    


Risky, powerful and promising world-premiere


Gregory Geffrard, Joyce Liza Rada Lindsey, Coco Elysses and Melissa F. DuPrey star in Tilikum, Sideshow Theatre

Sideshow Theatre Company presents

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: Tilikum 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, Tilikum is a very promising work-in-progress that has the potential to become great art.

Gregory Geffrard stars in Tilikum by Kristiana Rae Colón, Sideshow Theatre, photo Jonathan L. Green.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, Tilikum 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 “Blackfish”, a documentary that exposed the harsh truths behind the sunny exteriors of marine parks such as Sea World. Characters in Tilikum 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.

Gregory Geffrard and Matt Fletcher star in Tilikum, Sideshow TheatreGregory Geffrard and Sigrid Sutter star in Tilikum at Sideshow Theatre Gregory Geffrard and Sigrid Sutter star in Tilikum, Sideshow TheatreGregory Geffrard, Joyce Liza Rada Lindsey, Coco Elysses and Melissa F. DuPrey star in Tilikum at Sideshow Theatre

When Tilikum 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 Tilikum are musicians Coco Elysses, Melissa F. DuPrey and 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.

Tilikum’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, Tilikum will likely reach the highest of heights as a force to be reckoned with in American theater.

Rating: ★★★

Tilikum 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 half-price tickets). More information can be found at time: 90 minutes, no intermission)

Matt Fletcher and Gregory Geffrard star in Tilikum, Sideshow Theatre

Photos by Jonathan L. Green




Gregory Geffrard (Tilikum), Sigrid Sutter (Dawn), Matt Fletcher (The Owner)

Understudies: Jaegen Ellison, Amanda Fink, Christian Isely


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)

Gregory Geffrard stars in Tilikum by Kristiana Rae Colón, Sideshow Theatre, directed by Lili-Anne Brown


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

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