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  The Convert at Goodman Theatre

The Convert

Goodman Theatre
170 N. Dearborn Street Chicago

Set amid the colonial scramble for southern Africa in 1895, The Convert tells the tale of Jekesai, a young girl who escapes a forced marriage arrangement with the help of a stalwart black African catechist, Chilford Ndlovu. Caught between her loyalties to her family and culture but indebted to this new Christian god, she becomes Chilford's protégé, but when an anti-colonial uprising erupts she is forced to decide which side of the conflict she will choose—and where her heart truly belongs. With wit and compassion, The Convert explores the untold cultural and religious collisions caused by British colonists in this section of southern Africa (now Zimbabwe), and the reverberating effects still felt in the region today. Emily Mann, the award-winning Artistic Director of McCarter Theatre, returns to the Goodman to direct.

Thru - Mar 25, 2012

Price: $12-$42

Stage: Owen Theatre

Show Type: Drama

Box Office: 312-443-3800

Running Time: 3hrs, 10mins

Goodman Theatre Seating Charts

Suggested Nearby Restaurant

  The Convert Reviews
  • Highly Recommended
  • Recommended
  • Somewhat Recommended
  • Not Recommended

Chicago Tribune - Highly Recommended

"... So rich is this collective portrait of colonialism from the point of view of those being colonized, you find yourself pondering the various international excursions of the European church, not to mention thinking about how those born in the ferment of change and revolt often suffer its brunt, without seeing any benefit. Although the references are muted, Gurira clearly sees America as one emancipatory answer to this familiar trajectory of oppression; the play does not deal with the sin of slavery, although perhaps it should."
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Chris Jones

Chicago Sun Times - Somewhat Recommended

"... Jekesai proves exceptionally smart and eager to study, quickly accepts a Christian name (Ester), a clothing shift (from bare-breasted tribal dress to Victorian frock), and a religious conversion. And while she picks up both English and Catholic dogma in record time (think of this as something of a “Pygmalion” story), only later, after becoming Chilford’s most gifted protege, does she come to realize the deeper sacrifices she has made. Unfortunately, it takes three hours for the story to come full circle, even though the inevitable outcome can be guessed in the first 15 minutes."
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Hedy Weiss

Chicago Reader - Somewhat Recommended

"...Gurira's characters talk, argue, debate, and complain, sometimes quite compellingly. But very little happens to them. Gurira mostly populates her stage with viewpoints rather than people. The particularized, telling actions that give a stage world lifelike fullness are almost entirely absent. And the decisive historical forces that should heighten the stakes remain maddeningly vague. Even when the Chimurenga starts and bloodthirsty men burst into Chilford's Christian refuge, the threat is too generic to inspire real terror."
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Justin Hayford

Windy City Times - Recommended

"...The cast assembled by director Emily Mann, featuring Pascale Armand as the innocent Ester and LeRoy McClain as the ambitious Chilford—with sly scene-stealing support from Cheryl Lynn Bruce and Zainab Jah as the crafty housekeeper Mai Tamba and trophy mistress Prudence, respectively—deliver marathon-stamina performances, evoking empathy for the archetypal personalities in Gurira's symposial story, despite a protracted running time (three hours, with two intermissions) that, on a smaller stage, could be reduced by 45 minutes without cutting a single word, whether in English or Bantu."
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Mary Shen Barnidge

Time Out Chicago - Recommended

"...The Zimbabwean-American playwright draws a range of richly nuanced African characters. While the presence of the colonizing whites is deeply felt, they remain offstage. Chilford and his Western-educated friend, Chancellor (Kevin Mambo), wear Victorian clothing and speak, in stilted English, of the “savages” who bore them with alternating pity and scorn (though McClain maintains a streak of palpable good intention). Jekesai’s cousin and uncle refer to the men who kowtow to the whites as bafu—traitors—while her aunt, Mai Tamba (Cheryl Lynn Bruce), who serves as Chilford’s housekeeper, takes a more pragmatic approach, giving lip service to embracing the new faith while keeping a foot in the old ways."
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Kris Vire

ChicagoCritic - Highly Recommended

"... A reliably beautiful setpiece recalls The Calling of St. Matthew by Caravaggio. The stark tenebrism reinforces the atmosphere of a desire for absolutes in a world of uncertainty. Briskpacing and adroitdirection make The Convert‘s longer than average run-time feel necessaryfor the deepening of our sympathies for these people. Roman Catholicism, British Empiricism and racism are almost beside the pointas thestory pullsus past -isms and into these portraits of people with vast depths ofinner conflict searching for any stable pointtodrop anchor. Each one’s journey is a transformation parable, illustratingwhatcan happen whenthepath of conversion reaches an inevitable breaking pointofno return."
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Tom Williams

Chicago Stage Standard - Recommended

"... Despite the play’s odd mix of contrived revelations and editorializing exposition, powerful support comes from Cheryl Lynn Bruce as a proud pagan, Harold Surratt and Warner Joseph Miller as her unreconstructed polygamist relatives, Zainab Jah as proto-feminist Prudence, and Kevin Mambo as the arrogant and doomed nabob Chancellor."

Lawrence Bommer

   This show has been Jeff Recommended*

*The designation of "Jeff Recommended" is given to a production when at least ONE ELEMENT of the show was deemed outstanding by the Joseph Jefferson Awards Committee.

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