Stage adaptation of Richard Wright’s ‘Native Son’ explores systemic racism in 1930s South Side Chicago

Show opens Feb. 9 at DePaul University’s Theatre School with other events set to foster dialogue

Native Son
"Native Son" opens Feb. 9 and runs through Feb. 18 on the Fullerton Stage, 2350 N Racine Ave.
CHICAGO — The Theatre School at DePaul University presents the stage adaptation of Richard Wright’s 1940 novel “Native Son,” adapted by Theatre School alumna Nambi E. Kelley, and directed by graduate student Mikael Burke. The production opens Feb. 9 on the Fullerton Stage, 2350 N. Racine Ave. The Theatre School and DePaul’s Center for Black Diaspora also will host several events in conjunction with the run of “Native Son” to open dialogue.

‘Racism is poison’
The story takes place in 1930s South Side Chicago and explores the systemic racism and poverty that oppressed a young man named Bigger Thomas from birth. Bigger lands a job with a wealthy white family, but his fate is sealed when a violent act unleashes a chain of events that cannot be undone.

“Racism is a poison that destroys everything it touches, and people have to recognize and confront their role in it, whether explicit, implicit or complicit,” says Burke. “What is so genius about the novel and the adaptation is that it is asking us the hard question of those in power: Is Bigger born a black rat, or is his monstrous behavior the result of your treatment of him?”

Burke mentions that dealing with such polarizing issues in a theatrical setting isn’t always easy, but is useful to investigate the hard topics through art.

“Is this difficult to watch? Certainly. Uncomfortable? Absolutely. But it is nonetheless true. And as more black lives hang in the balance over racist thinking, we should all do what we can to expose and undermine racism, even if that means taking a good hard look in the mirror,” said Burke.

Cast and production team
The cast features Matthew James Elam (Bigger), Delaney Feener (Mary), Matthew Hannon (Mr. Dalton), Thalis Karatsolis (Britten), Jack Lancaster (Jan), Jayson Lee (Buddy), Matthew Lolar (Gus), Jessica Morrison (Hannah), Michael Morrow (Black Rat), Courtney Peck (Bessie) and Ashlea Woodley (Mrs. Dalton).

The production team includes Joy Ahn (scenic design), Megan Pirtle (costume design), Simean Carpenter (lighting design), Camille Demholm (sound design), William Young (technical direction), Bri Schwartz (dramaturgy) and Marguerite Hoffecker (stage management).

Burke, the director, is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in directing at The Theatre School. When not in school, he serves as creative director of Young Actors Theatre in Indianapolis and previously served as associate artistic director of NoExit Performance in Indianapolis. He received a 2017 Princess Grace Award in Theatre and was the recipient of the 2012 Robert D. Beckmann Emerging Artist Fellowship from the Arts Council of Indianapolis. Burke received a bachelor’s degree in theatre from Butler University in Indianapolis. His directing credits include: “Still,” “Hedda Gabler,” “Eurydice” (The Theatre School), “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea,” “Middletown,” “Medea,” “Macbeth,” “I Am Peter Pan,” and “The Pillowman” (NoExit).

Production and ticket information
The production opens Feb. 9 and runs through Feb. 18. Performances are slated for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Previews are at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7 and Feb. 8. The Feb. 11 and Feb. 15 performances will be followed by a post-show discussion. The Feb. 15 performance will also be interpreted in American Sign Language.

Tickets are $15, preview tickets are $10 and student tickets are $5. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-325-7900 or by visiting http://theatre.depaul.edu. Members of the active military and their families can receive a discount with a valid ID. Patrons with impaired vision or who require wheelchair accessible or companion seating are asked to call the box office. Subscriptions and group rates (six or more people) are available. All tickets are reserved seating.

​​Dialogue events
The Theatre School and DePaul University's Center for Black Diaspora will host several events in conjunction with the run of “Native Son.”

Feb. 8, 2:30 p.m.
Authors Rashad Shabazz and Beryl Satter facilitate a discussion on the topic of literary geographies in the Fullerton Stage lobby. Shabazz, an associate professor of justice and social inquiry at Arizona State University, is the author of “Spatializing Blackness: Architectures of Confinement and Black Masculinity in Chicago.” Satter, a professor of history at Rutgers University, is the author of “Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America,” which won the Liberty Legacy Award in Civil Rights History and the National Jewish Book Award in History, and was a finalist for the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize and the Ron Ridenhour Book Prize. Co-sponsored with DePaul’s Geography Department.

Feb. 12, 5 p.m.
Screening of “Black Boy” in The Theatre School, Room 546, hosted by David Akbar-Gilliam, associate professor of Spanish and department chair of Modern Languages at DePaul.

Feb. 13, 5 p.m.
Screening of the 1951 film adaptation of “Native Son,” starring Richard Wright, in The Theatre School, Room 546. Discussion facilitated by Dexter Zollicoffer, diversity advisor at the school.

Feb. 14, following the 7:30 p.m. performance of 'Native Son'
This post-show discussion will be facilitated by Ted Anton, a professor of English at DePaul and chair of the Age Studies Executive Committee of the Modern Language Association.

Feb. 16, following the 7:30 p.m. performance of 'Native Son'
This post-show discussion on the topic of “Richard Wright, The Expat,” will be facilitated by Juelle Daley, assistant director of DePaul’s Center for Black Diaspora.

Additional information about The Theatre School at DePaul University is online at https://theatre.depaul.edu/, and information about DePaul’s Center for Black Diaspora is at http://bit.ly/DPU_CBD.

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Media Contact:
Anna Ables
aables@depaul.edu
773-325-7938