Emerging from the shadow

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By Doug Deuchler

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A new play by Loy A. Webb, opened Sept. 5 at 16th Street Theater in Berwyn. I guarantee you'll be blown away by His Shadow. The script is strong and well-structured, the performances amazingly intense, and the production sustains an on-going, electrifying atmosphere, thanks to director Wardell Julius Clark. It's a thrilling new piece of theater, yet much of the time, the dialogue is as funny as it is insightful.

Leaving his historically black hometown, 18-year-old Teeny Evans (Charles Andrew Gardner) goes off to a small, mostly white college with dreams of following his older brother Juice, a pro football star. He wants to keep his sibling's identity a secret but that's impossible. Teeny even ends up wearing Juice's number, 7, on his uniform.

Back home Teeny is always compared to his big brother. He loves Juice but hates living in Juice's shadow and wants to carve out his own identity.

Teeny is focused on success as he tries to step out of his brother's shadow. He's religious about his life and approach, avoiding any distractions that might interfere with his dream.

His best friend on the team is Kodak (Marcus D. Moore), who took on that nickname 

"cuz every pass I catch is a Kodak moment." A mostly jolly guy, Kodak is a survivor of the foster care system and is likewise focused on success on the field. Moore and Gardener are fun to watch together, whether they're bickering or just horsing around, being funny.

Anna Dauzvardis plays Rain, a dedicated, angry social justice advocate who is deeply involved in protesting the murder of a local black girl by white cops. Rain tries to get Teeny to lend some support to their cause, but he staunchly refuses, saying, "I'm a football player, not an activist." Preparing for his games takes all his focus. He says he needs tunnel vision.

When a tragic event occurs, Teeny broadens his approach, including elements of protest into his football persona. Though he is trying to shine a light on the systemic mistreatment of African Americans by white police officers, the administration is furious. They assume Teeny is simply disrespecting the flag. The plotline evokes the on-going crisis of Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback who continues to suffer for protesting racism and police brutality by kneeling during the National Anthem.

Moore and Dauzvardis each play several other incidental roles and are both remarkably adept at creating another character with few lines and in mere moments.

Gardener is stunning as Teeny. At times he's hysterical, sobbing and distraught, at other points he's defiant or playfully, joyfully animated.

Sydney Charles is associate director and Regina Victor is the dramaturg. The scenic design is by Sydney Lynne. There are two prominent display cases, lit inside, which include various items of sports memorabilia. These set pieces are pulled apart at times to accommodate various scenes. David Goodman-Edberg's sharp lighting design provides intensity and mood.

His Shadow, Webb's powerful new play, covers a lot of ground, from the competitive relationship between siblings even when they love one another, to the conflict that can occur between ambition and activism. 

Closing out their current season, this remarkable production is located in the familiar 16th Street Theater. Their next show is expected to be performed at their new, larger space at 16th Street and Harlem Avenue, Berwyn.

See "His Shadow" through Oct. 12, Thursdays and Fridays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Sept. 22 and Oct. 6, 3 p.m., at 16th St. Theater, 6420 16th St., Berwyn. $30, reserved; $22, general admission; $18, Berwyn residents/low income/military. Tickets: 16thstreettheater.org, 708-795-6704.

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