TimeLine’s explosive world premiere reveals years of Chicago Police corruption. Sadly, one gets the impression that it's just the tip of the iceberg. In 1990, John Conroy, a journalist with The Chicago Reader, began a series of investigative articles into Area 2’s practice of secretly torturing criminal suspects in order to extract confessions of guilt. This torture, which involved electrical shock in a basement room, was aimed primarily at African-Americans. Conroy has taken two decades of his own research, interviews and articles and fashioned a compelling new fictional account about an imprisoned young black man’s battle for justice. The result is a riveting production by a company that knows how to present historically based theatre that will undoubtedly, as their mission states, “generate discussions about today’s social and political issues.”
Director Nick Bowling’s ensemble cast is flawless. As Ortha Jeffries, the young African-American at the center of this electrifying production, Charles Gardner explodes onstage in a star-making TimeLine debut. His anger and frustration permeates every scene and gives a name and face to years of statistics. Multi-talented Ora Jones offers so much heart, wisdom and despair to Otha’s hardworking mother, Rita, and it is her heartbreaking face that the audience will remember long afterwards. Derek Garza, as Otha’s attorney Robert Morales, steadily grows stronger as the story unfolds, and Maggie Kettering captures attorney Maureen Buckley’s struggle between professional and ethical allegiance.
No one escapes unscathed. Jeffries’ torture, although never actually witnessed onstage, affects and changes the audience and every single character in one way or another. And Bowling’s direction, enhanced by Mikhail Fiksel’s original blues score, drives his production with a relentless tension that sends audiences home without any concrete answers, but filled with some very unsettling questions.