Through April 10.
There are several moments in The Gospel According to James that don’t ring true, but that is the point. Playwright Charles Smith (Pudd’nhead Wilson) looks at the 1930 double lynching in Marion, Ind., through two, often conflicting perspectives.
The first belongs to James Cameron (Andre DeShields), who escaped the lynching and, decades later, seeks to memorialize its victims. The second is Marie (Linda Kimbrough), a woman who spent a lifetime trying to forget she was there. As the two take turns narrating the events of that horrific August night, heroes become villains, cads turn kind and a distressed damsel starts to look like a willing shill.
Director Chuck Smith (of Chicago’s Goodman Theatre) beautifully orchestrates supporting performances, broad and nuanced, until we can’t tell which characterizations represent reality and which the fantasy of memory. If the two Smiths can’t give us the facts behind the tragedy, they do well to uncover truth, then as now, in the fragile swagger of youth, the complexities of the parent-child bond and the infinite potential for hate.
The Gospel grows too rich in symbolism at the end, but overall, this production, set against a nearly bare stage with a tree-painted backdrop, is disquieting and deeply moving. It is an exciting commission from the IRT, heading to Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theatre after this premiere run.