Sunday, February 16, 2020

REVIEW: Roan @ The Gates at American Blues Theater

American Blues Theater Presents the Chicago Premiere of 
Roan @ the Gates
Written by Christina Telesca Gorman
Directed by Lexi Saunders
Featuring Brenda Barrie and Jasmine Bracey

January 31 – February 29, 2020

Guest Review 
By Catherine Hellmann 

How well do you really know your spouse or significant other? Are you sure their job is legit?? How far would you go to keep your partner safe? Is it a flaw in the relationship to not divulge some information? Is not being completely upfront a form of lying? Should your partner know your passwords? 

Wow. All of these thought-provoking questions (and more!) arise in American Blues Theater’s Chicago premiere of Roan @ the Gates

This intense two-person show raises all these issues in its 80-minute running time. Brenda Barrie plays Roan, who does “something” in IT for the government. She’s very sketchy on the details of her job, including telling her wife Nat where she travels for work. Nat, a civil-rights attorney, pushes the issue one night before Roan departs again in the morning. Roan is very evasive about her duties and location to Nat’s growing consternation. 

Now, in all fairness, Roan never LIES outright to her spouse...but neither does she give full disclosure to what she does for a living or where she is going; she won’t even tell Nat how long her next flight is...hmmm...does this reveal dishonesty or a lack of trust? It’s interesting that Nat is an attorney who must always deal with client confidentiality, so why wouldn’t she back off when Roan is evasive about her employer? 

 But Nat is persistent in all matters. There is a great character reveal story about an auto dealership ripping the couple off with a repeated repair until the warranty on their brand-new car is expired. Nat says she hopped onto a car in the showroom and announced to a crowd of potential customers how these cars are “pieces of shit” which she calls the “sermon on the Passat.” She warns Roan that “people take advantage of other people. That’s what they do.” 

   Not to reveal too much of the plot’s secrets, but yes, all hell breaks loose once Roandeparts the country and is detained in Moscow, Russia. (The playwright, Christine Telesca Gorman, was inspired by events surrounding Edward Snowden.) Roan’s evasiveness was intended to protect Nat and keep her safe from knowing too much. 

Roan is called a traitor by her enemies and a whistleblower by her admirers, including Nat. Either way, she is not able to return to the U.S. Much of the dialogue is communicated through technology in Skype and messaging. We all know how difficult it can be to read tone in a text. As Roan exclaims to Nat in an IM, “Are you OMGing me?!”  Nat retorts: “Don’t you Allcaps me!” That exchange sounded like any couple in a disagreement, not separated by an ocean and government espionage.  

Roan is privvy to the continuous monitoring and collecting that is happening to all Americans every moment we use technology. She says the “NSA is harvesting data.” You sign into Netflix? You order from Amazon? You call an Uber? Yeah, well, you are being watched, according to Roan. Her prediction is eerie and creepy: “It’s not information they are collecting; it’s leverage.” Remember that quote next time you order lingerie online or send your friends an off-color joke…

Being a two-woman play, the actors need to be fantastic to pull this off. Both women do a fabulous job, but Jasmine Bracey as Nat is a revelation. I loved watching her facial expressions revealing every emotion as she reads her messages from Roan. 

Nat suggests joining Roan in Russia, but being a lesbian and biracial couple won’t fly in the land of Putin, where homosexuals were banned from the Sochi Olympics in 2014. More layers added to this complex story. 

There was a post-show discussion with a professor from Northwestern, Dr. Michele Kerulis. She addressed the topic “Privacy vs Secrecy,” which was illuminating. There will be other special events to coincide with this play as well. 

Great play for discussion over drinks afterwards. Maybe you should pay the tab in cash...      

Catherine Hellmann is a teacher, writer, and theater junkie. She has tried to inspire urban and rural middle schoolers for over twenty years. A mother of three, she is thrilled to once again claim Chicago as home.  

American Blues Theater continues its 2019-2020 Season with the Chicago Premiere of Roan @ The Gates, written by Christina Gorman* and directed by Lexi Saunders. Roan @ The Gates runs January 31, 2020 – February 29, 2020 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago.  

Nat is an outspoken civil rights attorney; Roan, the quiet one, is an NSA analyst who isn’t even allowed to tell her wife the location of her next business trip. A long-time couple confronts questions about their marriage they never thought to ask as their personal relationship collides with national security.

“This play’s drama teeters on the balance between marriage vows and the required oath to the Constitution by some federal employees,” notes Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside. “Christina Telesca Gorman made this topic personal, intimate, and poignant. As you weigh Roan’s decisions in this perilous situation, try not to think about all the data points collected on you today: point-of-sale purchases, web addresses visited, social media posts, cell-phone tower pings, and municipal and private businesses’ video and audio recording devices. If you haven’t heard this battle cry yet, you will: data rights are human rights.”

The cast of Roan @ The Gates includes Brenda Barrie (Roan) and Jasmine Bracey (Nat).

The creative team includes Sarah E. Ross* (scenic), Jared Gooding* (lighting), Lily Walls* (costumes), Eric Backus* (composer/sound design), Amanda Barth (props), and Charlie Baker (intimacy). The production and stage manager is Shandee Vaughan.* 

*Denotes Ensemble and Artistic Affiliates of American Blues Theater

Roan @ The Gates is recommended for audiences ages 12+.

About the Artists

CHRISTINA TELESCA GORMAN (Playwright) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. Her plays include Fidelis (The Public Theater); American Myth (American Blues Theater, Theatre Artists Studio); Roan @ the Gates (Alley Theatre’s Alley All New Festival); On the Outs (Ensemble Studio Theater); Split Wide Open (NYC Summer Play Festival); Sorin: A Notre Dame Story (University of Notre Dame, national tour); Just Knots (national and international theatres, winner of Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Festival Plays 34th Series); Sacred Ground (Stella Adler Studio); and DNA (Prospect Theatre Company, Hangar Theatre). Her plays have been produced and/or developed at Geva Theatre Center, Capital Repertory Theatre, New Harmony Project, Lark Play Development Center, Troy Foundry Theatre, Stageworks/Hudson, Playwrights Foundation, and Berkshire Playwrights Lab. Christina is an inaugural member of The Public Theater Emerging Writers Group and a WP Theatre Playwrights Lab alumna. She is published by Samuel French and Smith & Kraus.

LEXI SAUNDERS (Director) is a queer director, performer, and teaching artist originally from Los Angeles. Recent Chicago directing credits include Power in Pride (About Face Theatre); The Departure (Haven Theatre); Eurydice (Jedlicka Performing Arts Center); Missed Opportunities (Cuckoo’s Theatre Project); Grounded (Theater of Thought); Fifty Shades of Shakespeare ((re)discover theatre); Super (Mudlark Theater); and various other works and staged readings at Victory Gardens, Gift Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, 2nd Story, Something Marvelous, and Pride Films & Plays. She has assistant directed for Steppenwolf Theatre, Victory Gardens, Steep Theatre, Jackalope Theatre, and La Jolla Playhouse; and was honored to be selected for Victory Gardens’ 2016 Directors Inclusion Initiative and Haven Theatre’s 2017 Directors Haven. Lexi is an Artistic Associate with About Face Theatre, where she currently directs the Outreach Ensemble touring a queer devised show to schools and events throughout the Midwest. Upcoming productions include Laced by Sam Mueller at About Face Theatre. She holds a BA in Theatre from UC San Diego.  

BRENDA BARRIE (Roan) is thrilled to return to American Blues Theater where she last performed in Six Corners. Select Chicago credits include United Flight 232 (House Theatre); The Downpour (Route 66); Mother Road (Goodman Theatre); Middletown, Sex with Strangers, and Okay Bye (Steppenwolf Theatre); Julius Caesar and Elizabeth Rex (Chicago Shakespeare Theater); Memory, Aunt Dan and Lemon, How I Learned to Drive, and Waiting for Lefty (Backstage Theatre); The Ruby Sunrise (Gift Theatre); Mrs. Caliban and Mariette in Ecstasy (Lifeline Theatre); A Streetcar Named Desire (Metropolis); and Caravaggio (Silk Road Rising). Brenda is a company member with the House Theatre, where she’s excited to perform the title role in Henry V later this spring. She’s received four Joseph Jefferson Award Nominations for Principal Actress and two Nominations for Ensemble. Television credits include Chicago Code, Chicago P.D., Chicago Med, and Chicago Fire. She received her BFA in Theatre from the University of Indianapolis and studied theatre at the University of Ulster, Northern Ireland.

JASMINE BRACEY (Nat) is thrilled to be making her American Blues Theater debut. Chicago credits include: A Christmas Carol, How to Catch Creation, Lottery Day (u/s performed) (Goodman Theatre); A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits (Chicago Shakespeare Theater); and Animal Farm (Steppenwolf Theatre). Regional credits include:  Shakespeare In Love, Truth: The Testimonial of Sojourner Truth (Hope Summer Rep); An Octoroon (Berkeley Repertory Theatre); You Can’t Take It with You (Alley Theatre); As You Like It (The Acting Company); Clybourne Park, To Kill a Mockingbird, Wit, The Little Foxes, O Beautiful, Our Town, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Resident Ensemble Players); Macando (Guthrie Theater); and Antony and Cleopatra (Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival). She holds a MFA from the University of Delaware.

Dates: January 31 – February 29, 2020
Previews: January 31 – February 5, 2020
Press Performance: Friday, February 7, 2020 at 7:30pm
Regular Run: February 8 – 29, 2020

Schedule: Thursdays:  7:30pm
Fridays:  7:30pm
Saturdays:  3pm (except February 1 and 8) & 7:30pm (February 29)
Sundays:  2:30pm

Additional performances on Wednesday, February 5 at 7:30pm, Monday, February 24 at 7:30pm and Thursday, February 27 at 2:30pm

No performances on Saturday, February 1 at 3pm; Saturday, February 8 at 3pm; or Saturday, February 29 at 7:30pm

Free post-show discussions follow Sunday performances.

Touch Tour and Audio Described Performance on February 16 at 2:30pm

Open Captioned Performance on February 23 at 2:30pm

Location: Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago

Ticket prices: $19 - $39
Box Office: Buy online at or by calling 773.654.3103.

All main stage performances take place at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. The Blue Card – the most affordable ticketing offer for the 2019-2020 season is available now at or by calling 773.654.3103. 

About American Blues Theater
Winner of the American Theatre Wing’s prestigious National Theatre Company Award, American Blues Theater is a premier arts organization with an intimate environment that patrons, artists, and all Chicagoans call home.  American Blues Theater explores the American identity through the plays it produces and communities it serves.

The diverse and multi-generational artists have established the second-oldest professional Equity Ensemble theater in Chicago.  The 32-member Ensemble has 600+ combined years of collaboration on stage. As of 2019, the theater and artists received 213 Joseph Jefferson Awards and nominations that celebrate excellence in Chicago theater and 38 Black Theatre Alliance Awards. The artists are honored with Pulitzer Prize nominations, Academy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Emmy Awards and numerous other accolades.  

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