Sunday, April 28, 2019

REVIEW: Adventure Stage Chicago’s World Premiere of Andrew Marikis’ Fast Food Chain

ChiIL Mama’s Chi, IL Picks List:
Family Friendly Theatre 

Adventure Stage Chicago’s
World Premiere of Andrew Marikis’
Fast Food Chain


directed by Black Ensemble Theater’s Daryl Brooks


Guest Review
By Catherine Hellmann


“If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.”
---Attributed to Mark Twain

Rudy (or Hare) learns this lesson in Fast Food Chain as the lies to his mother add up and begin to spiral out of control. In his defense, he is trying to provide for his family, as his single mom struggles to pay the rent to their evil landlord, Mr. Lyons, and put food on the table. (Rian Jairell is convincingly mean; when he asks to try the desperate family’s food, moments after harassing them for money, a woman behind us blurted,”No!”) When Mom catches Rudy in a lie, she looks at him suspiciously. “She knows he’s full of shit,” my companion whispers. “”My mom gave us that look before she gave us an ass whupping.”



Combining African folk tales with a realistic setting of hungry families in 2019 Chicago, each character has their animal counterpart. Yahdina U-deen as the narrator is Tortoise as well. Her costume, commanding Nigerian voice and stage presence really anchor the show and draw us in. “Ancient stories tell us who we are,” she informs us.



Rudy’s sister, Akari or Rat, (La Shone Kelly) is involved in her brother’s schemes of running a (literal) food cart out of a shopping cart in an alley. Rudy, played with charming enthusiasm by Davon Roberts, has dreams of being a chef and creates fanciful recipes with limited ingredients. One recipe is a mole created from Doritos and chocolate! As he tells his mom,”I’m not picky. I just deserve the best!”

The kids are constantly hungry, and their mom regularly visits the food pantry, unbeknownst to her children. When it is time for dinner, the mom feigns being tired to skip the meal, leaving more for her children. Even in tough times, the family members are there for each other.



Before the show, we are asked to look for examples of literal and figurative hunger. Besides their growling stomachs, Rudy also has a hunger to improve his life by becoming a chef. His aspirations are a hunger needing to be satisfied.

The staging and set really add to the story. Clusters of milk and water plastic bottles are placed around the stage. When they light up, it is a fun magical moment. There is also a screen at the back of the stage where  acrobatic dancers are in silhouette acting out the roles of the animals in the folk tales. Another neat feature is a Spanish translation of the dialogue above the stage.

School groups and families will love this world premiere. The playwright, Andrew Marikis, was in the audience, and suggestions from Chicago Public School students were incorporated into the show. We liked the themes of modern social issues, gentrification, family, and being true to oneself. 


In Fast Food Chain, Adventure Stage Chicago’s artistic associate and playwright Andrew Marikis wrote the piece with help from Chicago students, diving into the magical realism of African folktale while showcasing the power of community and storytelling in combatting social issues. Because the show was written with the help of youth, it is largely targeting to a youthful audience. The show reimagines Igbo folk heroes Hare and Tortoise against the backdrop of Chicago in 2019. Rudy is a teenage boy who dreams of becoming a famous chef. The problem is, his schemes usually involve getting him and his younger sister Akari into trouble. Their family struggles with the pressure of food insecurity in Chicago until one day, Rudy and Akari discover a garden in the unlikeliest of places.

Adventure Stage Chicago (ASC), a program of the Northwestern Settlement, presents the world premiere of ASC Artistic Associate Andrew Marikis’Fast Food Chain from April 26 to May 18, 2019 at the Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble Street. This production continues ASC’s 15th season, which explores the many challenges of hunger, both literal and metaphorical. Fast Food Chain is directed by Black Ensemble Theater’s Daryl Brooks, who helmed ASC’s Akeelah and the Bee last season.

Casting for the new production includes Davon Roberts (Rudy), La Shone T. Kelly (Akari), Sonya Cha’Rae (Ursula), Yahdina U-Deen (Mbeku), Kelvin Davis (Eddie), Rian Jairell(Mr. Lyons) and Lisa Revis (Shadow 1).

Fast Food Chain reimagines Igbo folk heroes Hare and Tortoise against the backdrop of Chicago in 2019. The story follows a brother and sister as they wrestle with the pressures of food insecurity in Chicago. Rudy is a teenage boy who dreams of becoming a famous chef. The problem is, his schemes usually involve getting him and his younger sister, Akari, into big trouble. Their family struggles with the pressure of food insecurity in Chicago until one day Rudy and Akari discover a garden in the unlikeliest of places. Fast Food Chain is written with help from Chicago students, diving into the magical realism of African folktale while showcasing the power of community and storytelling in combatting social issues.

Tickets for the world premiere of Fast Food Chain at Adventure Stage Chicago are on sale now for $12 to $17. To purchase tickets or for more information, visit adventurestage.org or call 773-342-4141.

Adult - $17.00

Youth (14 and Under) - $12.00

Fast Food Chain is the second world premiere play at ASC to benefit from a new play development process formalized by ASC Playwright-in-Residence Carlos Murillo. Marikis worked with school, youth and community groups at Northwestern Settlement over 18 months, using their input and participation to integrate community stories into the world of the play. The resulting story about heroic youth amplifies the mission of the Settlement, educating and inspiring its community to help disrupt generational poverty in Chicago.

Artist bios

Davon Roberts (Rudy) makes his Adventure Stage Chicago debut in Fast Food Chain. He is an actor, writer, director and comedian born and raised in Chicago IL. Davon's first performance was in a school production of The Wiz. As time progressed, he discovered a love for acting on film. Davon has been on shows such as Chicago Fire and Shameless, two indie films and several student films.

La Shone T. Kelly (Akari) returns to Adventure Stage Chicago after last appearing in Akeelah and the Bee and in Reprise, which got the opportunity to participate in Scotland National Theater’s “Home Away” showcase. She is new to the theater scene but comes from a musical background; having been in a family band called “The Chicago Kellys,” who have featured on NBC Nightly News, WGN and other local news outlets.

Sonya Cha’Rae (Ursula) makes her Adventure Stage Chicago debut in Fast Food Chain. Having graduated with a B.A in Acting from Western Illinois University in 2014, she went on to perform in a variety of plays and TV shows in Memphis, Tennessee and Chicago. Her latest performance was in the play Passin’ Where the River Bend (Iris). She has also played main roles in Fences (Rose)​​, The Wizard of Oz (The Wicked Witch), She Kills Monsters (Vera), and numerous extra roles in TV shows such as The Chi, Proven Innocent and Red Line.

Yahdina U-Deen (Mbeku) returns to Adventure Stage Chicago after her performance in Akeelah and the Bee. She is a mother, grandmother, professional singer and actor in the Chicagoland area and abroad. Recent performances include Black Ensemble's The Marvin Gaye Story, Nina Simone: The High Priestess Speaks, and At Last: A Tribute to Etta James. She’s also performed at ETA Creative Arts Agency, Victory Gardens and The South Shore Drill Team.

Kelvin Davis (Eddie) returns to Adventure Stage Chicago after his appearance in Akeelah and the Bee. He discovered his love for theatre as an ensemble cast member with Theatre IV, now called Virginia Repertory Theatre, with which he toured for over a decade, performing in shows such as Hugs and Kisses and Buffalo Soldiers. In Chicago, Kelvin has worked with The Black Ensemble Theatre during the Black Playwrights’ Festival. Kelvin has also understudied for The Gospel According to James at Victory Gardens.

Rian Jairell (Mr. Lyons) makes his Adventure Stage Chicago debut in Fast Food Chain. He was last seen as Major Metcalf in Metropolis Performing Arts Center’s production of The Mousetrap. Other Chicago credits include: Gas for Less, Dartmoor Prison (The Goodman Theatre), Cymbeline, Troilus and Cressida, A Flea in her Ear (Chicago Shakespeare Theater),Boeing Boeing (MPAC). His regional credits include: It’s Only A Play (Theatre Workshop of Nantucket), Macbeth, You Never Can Tell (Montana Shakespeare in the Parks), Pericles, The Fair Maid of the West, Line of Descent (Riverside Theatre), The Taming of the Shrew, The Rainmaker (Idaho Repertory Theatre). His film and television credits include: The Sighting, Using, Dimension, Chicago Fire and The Laramie Project.

Lisa Revis (Shadow 1) makes her Adventure Stage Chicago debut in Fast Food Chain. She earned her BFA in Music Theatre from Rockford University. She has performed at theatres throughout the country including Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts, Cumberland County Playhouse, Show Palace Dinner Theatre and Artist’s Ensemble Theatre. Some of her favorite credits include 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Marcy), Trojan Women (Helen), Mamma Mia! (Dance Captain), A Chorus Line (Connie), The Little Mermaid (Arista), Time of War (Combatant) and dancing with Bad Wolf Dance Theatre (Soloist). Since settling in Chicago, Lisa has performed with Filament Theatre (The Adventures of Robin Hood), Innervation Dance Cooperative (20th Season) and Chicago Honey Bears Dancers (company member).

Andrew Marikis (playwright) is a theater devisor, storyteller, actor, teaching artist and educator. This is his first full-length play at Adventure Stage Chicago. As a devisor, Marikis was lead teaching artist with the Adventure Stage Chicago Trailblazer—a mixed-age devising ensemble—for two years and is a resident artist with Filament Theatre, where he most recently helped develop and remount FORTS, an interactive play installation. As a storyteller, Marikis has told true tales all over Chicago and is the host and producer of Story Club South Side, a monthly live lit show he founded in 2012. As an actor he’s worked with Adventure Stage Chicago, Filament Theatre, Erasing the Distance, Irish Theatre of Chicago, Boho, City Lit, Lifeline and The Artistic Home among others. As a teaching artist, Marikis has taught all over the city and suburbs with Writers Theatre, Northlight Theatre, ASC, Dream Big and Emerald City.

Daryl Brooks (director) returns to Adventure Stage Chicago to tell the story of Fast Food Chain after directing ASC’s Akeelah and the Bee last season. Brooks has been a visible part of the Chicago theatre scene since 1999, having performed and directed all over the city. Recent projects include: Memphis (Porchlight Music Theatre; Jeff Nominated); writing and directing Women of Soul (Black Ensemble Theater; Jeff Recommended); The Black Pearl: The Story of Josephine Baker (Black Ensemble Theater; Jeff Nominated). Other directing credits include Men of Soul and Curtis Mayfield; he received the African American Arts Alliance award for Best Director for both productions. Brooks is the Producing Managing Director of the Black Ensemble Theater.




About Northwestern Settlement and Adventure Stage Chicago

Northwestern Settlement nurtures, educates and inspires children and families across Chicago. The Settlement’s success results from a commitment to treating every person who enters its doors with dignity and respect, while supporting them with transformational programming designed to disrupt generational poverty. The Settlement has led the way in innovative programming by offering residential science and environmental education for inner-city youth, launching successful charter schools, and adding a theater so children and teens have a forum for expressing their life experiences. For more information, visit www.northwesternsettlement.org.

The Settlement’s Adventure Stage Chicago (ASC) is one of the only theaters in Chicago to develop and present works specifically for the pre-teen and teenage audience. Adventure
Stage Chicago creates and tells heroic stories about young people in order to engage the community and inspire everyone to be a hero in their own lives. ASC also offers: Neighborhood Bridges, the in-classroom arts residency program; Trailblazers, a youth mentoring arts program; summer drama camps; and drama instruction in the Settlement’s Rowe Elementary School.
Adventure Stage Chicago is a member of IPAY (International Performing Arts for Youth), League of Chicago Theatres, Theatre Communications Group (TCG), and TYA/USA. For more information, visit www.adventurestage.org.


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