'CRIME SCENE: A CHicago Anthology'
When: Through March 10
Where: Collaboraction at the Flat Iron Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee
Info: (312) 226-9633; www.collaboraction.org
Run time: 85 minutes with no intermission
Driving home earlier this week from "Crime Scene: A Chicago Anthology," Collaboraction's searing look at this city's legacy of violence, I switched on the radio. And there it was: News of the latest young shooting victim -- the sister of a girl who, just 12 hours earlier, had attended President Obama's talk on gun violence at the Hyde Park Career Academy.
Neither politicians, nor the police, nor community activists, nor parents seem capable of stopping the insanity. And it's a good bet no theater company will be able to turn the tide, either. Yet there is something about the 85-minute "Crime Scene" that is so direct, visceral, youthful and winningly honest (meaning not at all predictably politically correct), that you might at least find yourself listening again -- willing to get beyond the overload of disgust, impotence and sense of futility.
Conceived and expertly directed by Anthony Moseley, "Crime Scene" has the feel of a streetwise Greek tragedy as it employs elements of history, testimony, song and hip-hop oration. Enter Collaboraction's loftlike space and the seating area is initially cordoned off like a police crime scene. On the walls are projections of maps of Chicago's neighborhoods, all with sidebars of crime statistics and more.
The scene is set for a whole lot of gunshots and venting, with a cacaphony of voices sounding off about the roots of the violence epidemic. And then the fully engaged cast of 12 treats us to a bristling history lesson -- a "timeline of Chicago violence" that takes us from the city's founding in 1780 through the Haymarket bombing of 1886, the race riots of 1919, the gangsters of Prohibition, the 1968 Martin Luther King riots and on and on.
Fast forward to a sadly typical case from 2000 -- in which Orlando Patterson, a 12-year-old, was shot to death in retaliation for an insult he had nothing to with. A series of "real life" voices follow, including an Irish priest (the very authentic Eamonn McDonagh), and an edgy Latino cop (altogether dazzling work by Lisandra Tena). Tena returns in a sensational, often hilarious scene, "Career Day at Cook Country Juvenile Court," in which she plays a visiting artist and raps with the best of them.
There is more: The 2012 case of a young Chicago rapper gunnned down "because of a gang feud fueled by YouTube videos and Twitter posts"; television news that makes crime and weather news almost interchangeable; and a chilling incident of Bucktown violence in which two young white female students who'd had too much to drink were brutally mugged.
Victoria Blade's anthemic song, "Let Hope Rise," captures the grief as much as the hope. And audiences for the show seem unusually eager to stay for the talk-backs.