Victory Gardens Presents The Gospel According to James with Andre DeShields


Artistic Director Dennis Za?ek and Executive Director Jan Kallish announce the Chicago Premiere of The Gospel According to James by Charles Smith, directed by Chuck Smith. The Gospel According to James runs May 14-June 12, 2011, at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Park. The Opening is Wednesday, May 18, at 7:30pm.

In 1930 in Indiana, the dangerous energy around a group of teenagers desperate to break out of their small town results in a shocking double lynching. When the two sole survivors meet years later, very different versions of what happened down that lonely country road begin to emerge. Inspired by the infamous true story, The Gospel According to James considers America's tangled feelings about the racism and sexism of our shared past-and our responsibility to honestly accept who we are so we can face the future together.

As The Gospel According to James dramatizes the events leading up to the crime, it also explores how unreliable personal memory underlies what we believe to be an immutable public history. Victory Gardens Playwrights Ensemble Member Charles Smith's The Gospel According to James comes to Victory Gardens straight from its world premiere this spring at Indiana Repertory Theatre, where it captivated audiences with its powerful story of redemption.

"As I read A Lynching in the Heartland, I knew that writing a play based upon the events surrounding that night in 1930 would present a unique set of challenges. There was one thing I knew for sure from the beginning, without question. I knew that I did not want to reproduce the lynching on stage," comments playwright Charles Smith. "The lynching is only the starting point. Ultimately, the play is about redemption, forgiveness and about the ferocious power that one's memory has to project on the individual. The play is about us, here today, and about how we choose to face tomorrow."

The cast is led by Emmy winner and multiple Tony nominee André De Shields (James) and includes Kelsey Brennan (Mary), Wardell Julius Clark (Tommy Shipp), Linda Kimbrough (Marie), Diane Kondrat (Bea Ball), Christopher Jon Martin (Hoot Ball), and Tyler Jacob Rollinson (Abe Smith) and Nick Vidal (Claude).

The designers are Linda Buchanan (Set), Rachel Healy (Costumes), Kathy Perkins (Lighting), Ray Nardelli (Sound). Tina Jach is the Stage Manager.

About the artists
Charles Smith (Playwright) is a member of the VH Playwrights Ensemble, alumni playwright of New Dramatists in New York, and recipient of the 2008 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award. Smith's work has been produced off-Broadway and at regional theatres around the country including The Acting Company's twenty-two city tour of his play, Pudd'nhead Wilson. Other theaters that have produced his work include Victory Gardens, Indiana Repertory Theatre, People's Light & Theatre Company, The Goodman Theatre, Ujima Theatre Company, Penumbra, St. Louis Black Rep, New Federal Theatre, Seattle Repertory Theatre, and Berkeley Repertory Theater. His work has also been produced for the HBO New Writers Project, the International Children's Theater Festival in Seattle, and the North Carolina Black Arts Festival. A graduate of the Iowa Playwrights Workshop, Smith has received commissions from Victory Gardens, Goodman Theatre, Seattle Rep, Indiana Rep, The Acting Company, and Ohio University. He has taught playwriting at Northwestern University, Croatia, the Czech Republic, and is currently the head of the Professional Playwriting Program at Ohio University.

Chuck Smith (Director) is a Goodman Theatre and MPAACT resident director and an associate producer of Legacy Productions, a Chicago-based touring company. He most recently directed and produced the critically acclaimed New York production of Charles Smith's Knock Me a Kiss for the New Federal Theater and Legacy Productions. At the Goodman he has directed The Good Negro by Tracy Scott Wilson, James Baldwin's The Amen Corner (which transferred to Boston's Huntington Theatre where it won the IRNE Award for best direction), Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, Pearl Cleage's Blues for an Alabama Sky, August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Lynn Nottage's Crumbs from the Table of Joy, Ain't Misbehavin', A Christmas Carol, Vivisections from a Blown Mind, The Meeting, the world premieres of By the Music of the Spheres and The Gift Horse, and the Chicago premieres of Proof, The Story, and Jose Rivera's Massacure for Teatro Vista. He served as dramaturg for August Wilson's world premiere of Gem of the Ocean and curated the Goodman's 2007 August Wilson Celebration. He directed Wole Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Knock Me a Kiss at Chicago's Victory Gardens, where other directing credits include Master Harold and the Boys, Home, Dame Lorraine with the late Esther Rolle, and Eden, for which he received a Jeff nomination for best direction. He will direct David Mamet's Race at the Goodman next season.

Kelsey Brennan (Mary) Previous credits include work at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, The Importance of Being Earnest (Remy Bumppo Theatre), The Value of Names (Next Act Theatre), Trouble in Mind, A Christmas Carol, Cyrano de Bergerac (Milwaukee Repertory Theatre),and Ah, Wilderness!, Henry IV, The Belle's Stratagem (American Players Theatre). Kelsey makes her home in Chicago and is a proud graduate of Ohio University.

Wardell Julius Clark (Tommy Shipp) is making his Victory Gardens debut with this play. He was last seen in Ghosts of Atwood (MPAACT) directed by Andrea J. Dymond. Regional credits include: Cymbeline (Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival); Fences (Carver Theatre), Much Ado About Nothing, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, The Who's Tommy, and A Chorus Line (Virginia Samford Theatre); Topdog/Underdog (American Theater Company), the world premiere of DRIP(ETA) by Gloria Bond Clunie, The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle (Apollo Theatre), Richard III, Fucking A (DePaul Theatre School), Kosi Dasa and Like a Cow or an Elephant (Merle Reskin Theatre), Tales as Old as Africa (Chicago Playworks), and independent films. Wardell holds a B.F.A. in Acting (DePaul University).

André De Shields (James Cameron) In a career spanning more than forty years, André De Shields has distinguished himself as an unparalleled actor, director, and educator. He is the recipient of the 2009 National Black Theatre Festival Living Legend Award, and the 2007 Village Voice OBIE Award for Sustained Excellence of Performance. Mr. De Shields is a multiple Tony Award nominee, and is best known for his show-stopping performances in the original Broadway productions of four legendary musicals: The Full Monty, Play On!, Ain't Misbehavin', and The Wiz. He recently played to critical acclaim as Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois in the New Federal Theatre's production of Charles Smith's Knock Me a Kiss, directed by Chuck Smith.

Linda Kimbrough (Marie) is proud to be a part of Dennis Zacek's final season, having acted opposite him in Strangle Me, as part of Victory Gardens' first season. Other shows at VG include Spinning Into Blue, Ripe Conditions, and Deed of Trust. Most recently, she played Marie in a production of this play at Indiana Repertory Theater. Prior to that; A Life (Northlight Theatre), The History Boys (Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre), Better Late (Northlight Theatre and the Galway Arts Festival in Ireland), and Noises Off (Cleveland Play House). She has originated roles in David Mamet's plays: Edmond, Reunion, The Water Engine, Squirrels, and his adaptation of Chekov's The Cherry Orchard. Movies include Spartan, State and Main, Red Belt, and Homicide.

Diane Kondrat (Bea Ball) last appeared in Chicago in 1992 in Steve Tesich's Square One. Diane received a $10,000 Eli Lilly artist grant toward an intensive at Shakespeare & Co. Recent credits at Indiana Repertory Theatre include The Heavens Are Hung In Black and Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure. Other credits include The Grapes of Wrath (Cardinal Stage Company), The Havel Festival (NYC's Ohio Theatre), and Assholes and Aureoles (Midtown International Theatre Festival). Favorite roles include Winnie in Beckett's Happy Days, Bella in Lost In Yonkers and Barbara in Boom.

Christopher Jon Martin (Hoot Ball) was last seen in The Gospel According to James at Indiana Repertory Theater, Inherit the Whole in Chicago, Proof, The Hostage, The Tempest, Grapes of Wrath, and How I Learned to Drive. He has also appeared in numerous television and film roles. Christopher would like to thank his mentors from the PATP at Ohio University and his astonishing wife and magical child for all of their support and inspiration.

Anthony Peeples (Apples) is a Chicago actor, director, and artist-educator. His Chicago credits include Silk Road Theatre Project, Goodman, American Theatre Company, Northlight, Next, Raven, Victory Gardens, Studio One, First Folio Shakespeare, eta, B.E.T., and EMPAACT. Regional credits: the National Tennessee Williams Festival, St. Louis Black Rep, Cleveland Play House, Phoenix Theatre, Circle for Children, and CATCO. "To Jess, Becca, Chuck, Charles, Janet, IRT, Claire Simon, grossmanjack, and the Gospel cast and crew, I praise you for sharing this memory with me. To my family: might not beteem the winds of heaven visit your face too roughly."

Tyler Jacob Rollinson (Abe Smith) is excited to make his professional debut in The Gospel According to James. Regional theatre credits include A Christmas Carol, Heist!, and Let Bygones Be at Actors Theatre of Louisville; Clementine in the Lower Nine at PlayPenn; and Knock Me a Kiss and Southbridge at Ohio University. For his work in Trailerpark he was awarded the Southern Appalachian International Film Festival's Best Supporting Actor Award. Tyler holds a B.F.A from Ohio University's School of Theatre, and he was a member of ATL's 2009-2010 Acting Apprentice Company.

Nick Vidal (Claude) is making his first appearance on the Victory Gardens stage. He was last seen as Mick Jagger in Signal Ensemble Theatre's production of Aftermath. Nick's previous credits include work with Lifeline Theater, the Building Stage, Absolute Shakespeare, and Oak Park Festival Theater.

Full performance schedule
Previews of The Gospel According to James are May 14-17, 2011: Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 pm; and Sunday at 3 pm. Previews are $20-$40. The Press opening is Wednesday, May 18, at 7:30 pm. Regular performances run through June 12, 2011: Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 pm; Saturday at 4 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. There will be a matinee on Wednesday, June 1 at 2:00 pm. There is no performance on Tuesday, May 31. Regular performances are $20-$50.

Performances are at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue, in the heart of Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood. For tickets and information, call the Victory Gardens Box Office, 773.871.3000 (tty: 773.871.0682), email, or visit Ask the Box Office about student, senior, Access, 20 for $20, and rush discounts. For group discounts, call 773.549.5788

The Gospel According to James special events
OPEN REHEARSAL - Thursday, May 5 at 6:00 pm

A behind-the-scenes peek at rehearsal, including a talkback with the director and cast, followed by a reception in the lobby with food provided by Aquitaine Restaurant. Complimentary admission. For reservations, email


HUMANITIES NIGHT - Thursday, May 19, post-show

A guest speaker will lead an interactive discussion on the play's topics and themes moderated by a member of our artistic staff.


HAPPY HOUR - Friday, June 3, at 6:00 pm

Join Victory Gardens for a pre-show Happy Hour with beer tasting provided by Haymarket, hors d'oeuvres by Fiesta Mexicana and live music.

Join members of the cast and VG Artistic Team in a post-play discussion Wednesdays after Opening Night.


Audio descriptions for patrons who are blind or have low vision

June 3 at 7:30 pm and June 12 at 3:00 pm

On-stage touch tour begins 1-1/2 hour before the show. Call 773.871.3000 to reserve.

Word for word captioning for patrons who are hearing impaired

June 10 at 7:30 pm, June 1 at 2:00pm and June 11 at 4:00 pm.

Sign language interpretation for patrons who are deaf or hearing impaired

June 10 at 7:30 pm

Victory Gardens is the winner, Best Accessible Theater, Deaf Illinois Awards 2009. Interpreting is by Deaf Communication by Innovation, Raymond Rodgers, Sign Master. See and click on "Enhance Your visit" for information and other Access services including large print and Braille programs, assisted listening devices, and artist development workshops.

Logistics and Amenities

$11 valet parking is available for all performances except weekday matinees. Discounted parking is available one block south at Children's Memorial Hospital for all shows except weekday matinees (no overnights). Metered and street parking is available, but mind the neighborhood parking restrictions.

Public transit

By CTA train, take the Red, Purple or Brown lines to the Fullerton stop. Walk east on Fullerton to Lincoln, then north 1/2 block to the theater. The #8 Halsted, #11 Lincoln, #37 Sedgwick/Ogden, and #74 Fullerton CTA buses all stop at the corner of Fullerton and Halsted, 1/2 block south of the theater. See for times and routes.

Pre- and post-show dining

See for a list of Victory Gardens' neighborhood dining partners. Each is within walking distance of the Biograph, and all offer a special discount to patrons who present a Victory Gardens ticket stub.

About Victory Gardens Theater
Under the leadership of Artistic Director Dennis Za?ek and Executive Director Jan Kallish, Victory Gardens Theater is home to the bold voices of world premiere theater. The company features the work of its own 14-member Playwrights Ensemble, as well as that of exciting playwrights who are changing theater in the U.S. and abroad. Since its founding in 1974, the company has produced more world premieres than any other Chicago theater, a commitment recognized nationally when Victory Gardens received the 2001 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. The company's dedication to developing, supporting and producing new work makes Victory Gardens an American Center for New Plays.

In 2006, Victory Gardens successfully completed an $11.8 million renovation of Chicago's famed Biograph Theater, and moved two blocks north from its longtime venue at 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue, to its beautiful new home in one of Chicago's most celebrated historic landmarks. Renamed Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, the new venue is a state-of-the-art 299-seat mainstage which has greatly expanded the company's artistic flexibility. In 2009, Victory Gardens completed the second phase of renovation at the Biograph, building an intimate, new, 109-seat studio theater on the second floor. On March 1, 2010, at a special launch event for Victory Gardens' Campaign for Growth, the theater's new studio was officially named the Richard Christiansen Theater, in honor of the Chicago Tribune chief critic emeritus and longtime champion of Chicago's live theater scene. Visit for more details.

Victory Gardens Theater receives major funding from, Alphawood Foundation, Chicago Community Trust, Shubert Foundation, Joyce Foundation, John T. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Wallace Foundation,The Boeing Company, Allstate Insurance Company, Polk Bros. Foundation, and National Endowment for the Arts. Additional funding is provided by: Motorola Foundation, REAM Foundation, Charles & M.R. Shapiro Foundation, Crown Family Philanthropies, Edgerton Foundation, Illinois Arts Council (IAC), A State Agency, and by, James S. Kemper Foundation, Wrightwood Neighbors Conservation Association, 3Arts, Harry S. Black and Allon Fuller Fund, Charles H. and Bertha L, Boothroyd Foundation, Elizabeth Cheney Foundation, John R. Halligan Charitable Fund, Illinois Tool Works, Irving Harris Foundationand a CityArts Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

Title: The Gospel According to James
Written by: Charles Smith
Directed by: Chuck Smith
Featuring: André DeShields
Previews: May 14 - 17 2011
Press opening: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 7:30 pm
Regular run: May 19- June 12, 2011
Tuesdays: 7:30 pm (except, no show on May 31)
Wednesdays: 2:00 pm (June 1 ONLY)
7:30 pm
Thursdays: 7:30 pm
Fridays: 7:30 pm (with 6pm Happy Hour on June 3)
Saturdays: 4:00 pm (except May 14)
7:30 pm
Sundays: 3:00 pm
Location: Victory Gardens Biograph Theater is located at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue,
in the heart of Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood
Tickets: Previews: $20 - $40
Regular run: $20 - $50
Box Office: The Box Office is located at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago.

Notes of interest:
The Gospel According to James by Ensemble Playwright Charles Smith had its world premiere last month at Indiana Repertory Theatre. The Joyce Foundation awarded a prestigious Joyce Award to IRT to commission the play.

André DeShields returns to Victory Gardens, where he previously directed Eden. He is best known for his work on Broadway in The Full Monty, Play On!, Ain't Misbehavin', and The Wiz.

Linda Kimbrough is proud to be a part of Dennis Zacek's final season, having acted opposite him in Strangle Me, as part of Victory Gardens' first season.

The Gospel According to James is based on actual people and events that happened in Marion, Indiana in 1930.

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