Chicago Children’s Theatre’s Jabari’ is a timely, powerful show

Jabari, a young kid from Chicago, is good at many things; among them, freestyling, art and making his classmates laugh. He’s not good, however, at remembering minutiae of the Civil Rights era. He disregards its importance when stacked up against the current struggles in the day-to-day life of his rough South Side neighborhood. But when his best friend is attacked, Jabari retreats into the safety of his artwork and dreams, finding surprising comfort in the words of kids from those same Civil Rights stories whose relevance he doubted.

If you go

Runs through May 1st, 2016 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts

1016 N. Dearborn St., Chicago


The newest work from Chicago playwright Nambi E. Kelley, “Jabari Dreams of Freedom” at Chicago Children’s Theatre has a strong message–but is delivered simply. Its effectiveness comes in the juxtaposition of poignant scenes with downright hilarious ones; Kindergartener Ruby Bridges tells Jabari how to be brave, mere moments before stepping out the door and starting her first day at an all-white school (where she’s most definitely not welcomed), which is followed by Jabari messing around with his future idol, pre-President Obama, on the night of Dr. King’s famed speech. Exceptional multimedia, layered behind live “news” broadcasts of the fear-mongering sort, paint a vivid picture of not only our collective consciousness, but also the filter through which Jabari views his world.

The cast is terrific, and shines under the delicate direction of Lili-Anne Brown. Patrick Agada, Emily Glick, Matthew Keffer, Gavin Lawrence and Leslie Ann Sheppard tirelessly portray the ever-rotating cast of characters (and Lawrence, especially, shines as grownup Barack Obama), but the real scene-stealer is Jabari himself (played by Philip Cusic in the matinee we saw, with Cameron A. Goode sharing the role).

Coming in at around 75 minutes, Jabari is geared toward kids nine and up (although my own Kindergartener is still talking about the unfairness of Ruby Bridges’ plight and my four-year-old hasn’t stopped humming “We Shall Not Be Moved,” no matter how hard I distract).

“Jabari Dreams of Freedom” is an incredibly timely tale for all kids–especially Chicagoans. During an era when gun and gang violence is at its peak, Kelley’s play serves as a powerful reminder that we–all of us–have so much work still ahead. Seeing this exceptional show will give some great ideas of where to start.

*The weekend of April 23 and 24 is Chicago Children’s Theatre’s first Access Weekend and will feature performances geared towards audience members on the autism spectrum, children who are blind or have low vision (and which will feature special Touch Tours of the set), and children who are deaf or hard of hearing.

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