Review: Hooded, of Being Black for Dummies (First Floor Theater)

| October 28, 2018

Brian Nelson Jr stars as Officer Borzoi in Hooded or Being Black for Dummies, First Floor Theatr    


Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies 

Written by Tearrance Arvelle Chilsholm
The Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee (map)
thru Nov 17  |  tix: $20-$25  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Darkly comic and socially relevant


Jalen Gilbert and Jayson Lee star in Hooded or Being Black for Dummies, First Floor Theatre

First Floor Theater presents
Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies

Review by Lauren Emily Whalen

Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies opens with a black police officer (Brian Nelson Jr.) informing the audience, “this story is not important.” He then gestures to two laugh lights above the stage and sternly instructs patrons to laugh when instructed, and only then. Throughout Hoodeds 90-minute run time, the cop gestures at the laugh lights with his night stick and a menacing glare. The ensuing laughter isn’t comfortable. It’s not supposed to be. First Floor Theater’s Chicago premiere of Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm’s play is many things: hilarious, sobering and moCaroline Hendricks and Jayson Lee star in Hooded or Being Black for Dummies, First Floor Theatrest of all, uncomfortable – especially for the white people (including myself) sitting in the audience. And that’s a good thing.

After the cop’s stern house speech, Hooded cuts to two young black men in a jail cell. For Tru (Jalen Gilbert), it’s just another day of, in his words, “being while black.” For Marquis (Jayson Lee), however, it’s a different story: his very first arrest for trespassing in a graveyard. The teen’s two white friends got away, leaving him trembling in his private school blazer and tie. Tru is shocked by Marquis’ naivete and privilege and subsequently writes a detailed how-to notebook on “Being Black for Dummies.” As Marquis and Tru form a tentative bond, Nietzsche meets Shakur and life is never the same.

If the raucous laughter around me was any indication, the audience members of color felt very seen by the playwright. In sharp contrast, white audience members suck in their breath as Marquis’ well-meaning adoptive mother makes gross assumptions about Tru’s mother without hearing any details first. And when Marquis’ lily-white crush Clementine (Caroline Hendricks) whines about not being able to use the N word (yes, that word). However, as a young black man brought up in a privileged white world, Marquis makes plenty of assumptions about Tru himself.

Casey Morris, Andrew Cutler, Caroline Hendricks, Maggie Scrantom, Lauren Pizzi Montgomery and Jayson LeeJayson Lee, Lauren Pizzi Montgomery and Jalen Gilbert star in Hooded or Being Black for DummiesCaroline Hendricks, Maggie Scrantom, Lauren Pizzi Montgomery, Jayson Lee, Casey Morris, Andrew CBrian Nelson Jr. and Jayson Lee star in Hooded or Being Black for Dummies, First Floor Theatre

Chisholm skillfully weaves together a host of stereotypes and misunderstandings in a way that’s laugh-out-loud funny but also deeply tragic. Though a subplot about Marquis’ best friend Hunter (Casey Morris) isn’t quite as developed as it could be, the rest of Hooded’s script is a wild journey, incorporating elements of Greek mythology and The Wizard of Oz as Marquis’ story devolves, sadly, as anyone who doesn’t live in a cave imagines it would. The tragedy of Hooded lies in its predictability, and Chisholm lets the plot and characterization unfold in a manner that’s borderline genius.

Mikael Burke’s direction is flawless from beginning to end: from the close quarters of the jail cell (and live security cam footage thanks to Sid Branca’s projection design) to an explosive ending featuring a devastating mural courtesy of set designer Sotirios Livaditis. Burke’s staging accurately reflects the mundanity of Marquis’ cloistered existence and the claustrophobia of youth, especially black youth. Both lead actors are perfectly cast: Lee has the wide-eyed cluelessness of a teen who doesn’t even know he’s rejecting his true self, and Gilbert’s intense charisma is as beautiful a fit here as it was in last summer’s Mies Julie at Victory Gardens. Hooded is a must-see for everyone living in modern society, where black lives don’t matter as they should and, as Tru points out to Marquis, making plans beyond tomorrow is a fool’s errand.

Rating: ★★★½

Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies continues through November 17th at The Den Theatre, , 1331 N. Milwaukee (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $25 (students w/ ID: $20), and are available online through (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 90 minutes without intermission)

Brian Nelson Jr stars as Officer Borzoi in Hooded or Being Black for Dummies, First Floor Theatr

Photos by WHO IS SHE Photography




Andrew Cutler (Fielder, Dionysus), Jalen Gilbert (Tru), Caroline Hendricks (Clementine), Jayson Lee (Marquis), Casey Morris (Hunter, Headmaster Burns), Brian Nelson Jr. (Officer Borzoi, Apollo), Lauren Pizzi Montgomery (Prairie, Debra), Maggie Scrantom (Meadow), Matthew Lolar-Johnson, Jesse Massaro, Gracie Meier, James Mercers (understudies)

behind the scenes

Mikael Burke (director), Sotirios Livaditis (scenic design), Eric Watkins (lighting design), Grover Hollway (sound design), Owé Preye Engobor (costume design), Jennifer Warnau (properties design), Sid Branca (projection design), Kayla Menz (stage management), Rachel Flesher (violence and intimacy choreography), Alicia Gaines (projection typography), Cole von Glahn (production management), Bobby Huggins (technical director), Eileen Rozycki (charge artist), Shelbi Arndt (master electrician), Catherine Miller (casting director), WHO IS SHE Photography (photos)

Jalen Gilbert and Jayson Lee star in Hooded or Being Black for Dummies at First Floor TheatreCaroline Hendricks, Lauren Pizzi Montgomery and Maggie Scrantom star in Hooded


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Category: 2018 Reviews, Den Theatre, First Floor Theater, Lauren Emily Whalen

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