Saturday, February 10, 2024

Hellish, Hopeful, and Highly Recommended: Review of TimeLine Theatre’s Notes from the Field

ChiIL Mama’s ChiIL Picks List: 

Adult Shows With Family Themes On Our Radar 



JANUARY 31 - MARCH 24, 2024

Mildred Marie Langford, Shariba Rivers, and Adhana Reid give voice to 19 real-life people in director Mikael Burke’s staging of Smith’s searing indictment of America’s school-to-prison pipeline


By Bonnie Kenaz-Mara

A dirt floor, a sparse set, a chorus of 3 figures in black speaking in unison. 3 pairs of bare feet grounding, connecting, and rooting a series of disparate stories with a common thread of injustice, so something incredible can grow. Three powerful women channeling the true stories of 19 individuals fighting to overcome and transform America’s education and criminal justice systems. One must see performance that will blow the blinders off audience members and bring systemic racism, classism, and school/police failures into the spotlight. Notes from the Field is an eye opening compilation of heart wrenching stories, staged in a stark and moving way. Kudos to all the TimeLine cast and creatives for bringing critical, true stories into the spotlight, encouraging empathy, and inciting change. Highly recommended. ★★★★ Four out of four stars. 

Adhana Reid (from left), Shariba Rivers, and Mildred Marie Langford collectively become Sherrilyn Ifill from the NAACP. All production photos by Brett Beiner Photography.

Three is a magic number, and Mildred Marie Langford, Adhana Reid, and Shariba Rivers are transformation in action and bring the stage magic! By simple costume changes and impressively different body language, cadence and accents, these 3 masters of the craft embody 19 vastly different human beings, and bring their real experiences to our eyes and ears in a visceral, chill-inducing way.

We live in difficult times socially, politically, environmentally, and economically. Yet, we could also be on the cusp of exciting,historic change. Lots of elements in our society are failing, and one of the first steps to making positive changes is acknowledging the problems. 

Shariba Rivers as fisherman and former inmate Taos Procter shares his story 

of ending up in prison

I have many friends who are teachers, so for years I've heard a barrage of stories about our broken system. A close friend who taught in an alternative school in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood had a student in class with an ankle monitor and another who disappeared from her English class one day, and when she asked around she discovered he had murdered his two housemates and was arrested. So many students are dealing with unimaginable stress and untenable living situations, with few safety nets or services to help, before situations hit critical. Another close friend of mine teaches kids who have been kicked out of public school, in a near western burb. She's had many success stories, as well as the heartbreak of seeing more than one promising student get murdered, and several classmates kill each other! And then we have to take into account the lesser but relentless daily discipline problems, poverty, and life stressors. I still think the general public is oblivious or buying knee-jerk fear mongering without taking a good look at surrounding social problems and more effective solutions.

I'm the mother of 2 graduates of Chicago Public Schools and walking though metal detectors and past cops every day from 7th-12th grade was routine for them, along with active shooter drills, and even school bomb threats. My daughter was stopped by a squad car while walking to school her sophomore year. Her crime? She was a few minutes tardy, since the L train was late and she missed her connecting bus. They scared, grilled, and hassled her, accused her of being from another school and causing trouble, and eventually released her, much tardier than she would have been. She was a cute, little white girl. How different would it have been if she was a black boy, especially one who ran when they pulled up? How could that scary encounter have gone if she had ADHD, or had other physical or mental disabilities that made her unable to hear them or comply with their demands?

Here at ChiIL Mama, we can't praise TimeLine enough for producing the uncomfortable work that sparks difficult discussions. Chicago's new Mayor campaigned on a promise to remove police officers from Chicago Public Schools, so we're at an interesting moment where school counselors, and those trained in deescalation over incarceration may see more funding and support. At this juncture, Notes from the Field couldn't be more timely. There are so many nuggets of wisdom, common sense and compassion in this show. The idea that children in crisis need to be pulled closer, nurtured, and helped, not incarcerated and separated, truly resonates. It's easy to become numb to the constant negative news cycles, but elevating a crisis to the stage makes a unique impact.  

Adhana Reid as Chief Judge Abby Abinanti shares why it’s better to pull our children closer when they stray rather than push them away.

Despite some truly horrific situations, Notes from the Field ends on a hopeful note. Activists are making headway and the general public seems to be open to the possibility of change. TimeLine does an excellent lobby display tie-in for each of their shows, which includes concrete steps to take and contact information for the change makers, along with more history on the topic. Come early or stay after and check it out.

We're excited to see director Mikael Burke, making his TimeLine debut. Don't let his fabulous Oscar the Grouch coat fool you... Mikael Burke is no mere Muppet curmudgeon, hiding out on Sesame Street. We keep bumping into him everywhere, and seeing his work all over town. This ubiquitous up-and-comer is one to watch! 

Here at ChiIL Live Shows and ChiIL Mama, he's been a favorite of ours for years. We caught both of his recent critically acclaimed stagings, Blues for an Alabama Sky for Remy Bumppo and Tambo & Bones for Refracted Theatre Company, and we were wowed. With Mikael Burke at the helm, and three top Chicago actors—TimeLine Company Member Mildred Marie Langford, Adhana Reid and Shariba Rivers on stage, TimeLine Theatre’s Notes from the Field is in great hands. Don't miss this! 

Bonnie is a Chicago based writer, theatre critic, photographer, artist, and Mama to 2 amazing adults. She owns two websites where she publishes frequently: (adult) & (family friendly). 

Hellish, Hopeful, and Highly Recommended
★★★★ Four out of four stars. 
Bonnie Kenaz-Mara,

TimeLine Theatre’s Chicago premiere of Notes from the Field by Anna Deavere Smith. Performances are January 31 - March 24, 2024 at TimeLine’s longtime home, 615 W. Wellington Ave., in Chicago’s Lakeview East neighborhood. 

Notes from the Field is a strikingly intimate evening of theater unlike anything you’ve experienced before, presenting snapshots from a variety of real people, documenting their intersections with the American dream and the obstacles that work to block them from it. Utilizing verbatim dialogue pulled from more than 250 accounts from students, faculty, prisoners, activists, politicians, and victims’ families, Notes from the Field takes audiences on an emotional journey through the faults and injustices of an American criminal justice system that seems more focused on incarceration over education.

Deeply human, profoundly moving, and full of moments of humor, compassion, and resilience, Notes from the Field is a masterful work by one of the most accomplished theater artists of our time that asks audiences to observe, be present, and join the call for urgent and necessary change. The New York Times called it "a searing and urgent work that confronts some of the most pressing issues of our time with honesty, intelligence, and compassion.”  

Originally performed by creator Anna Deavere Smith as a one-woman show, TimeLine’s Chicago premiere features TimeLine Company Member Mildred Marie Langford, Adhana Reid and Shariba Rivers to weave together narratives of change makers, activists, and those caught within and trying to change the school-to-prison pipeline.

Mildred Marie Langford as inmate Denise Dodson expresses what prison has taught her and how a better education could have given her a different path.

In sum, Smith gives voice to 19 real-life instigators of change, from household names to brave Americans who were unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight of history, including Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Rev. Jamal Harrison Bryant, who eulogized Freddie Gray in Baltimore; Niya Kenny, the high school student who confronted a violent police deputy—all caught on film; activist Bree Newsome, who took the Confederate flag down from the South Carolina State House grounds; and many others. She ends the play with the late Congressman John Lewis, who personifies both a violent time in American history with the civil rights movement, and the promise of what American character is all about.

TimeLine’s production team includes Eleanor Kahn (Scenic Designer, she/her), Christine Pascual (Costume Designer, she/her), Eric Watkins (Lighting Designer), Ellie Terrell (Properties Designer, she/her), Rasean Davonté Johnson (Projections Designer, he/him), Christie Chiles Twillie (Sound Designer, she/her), DeRon S. Williams (Dramaturg, he/him), Dina Spoerl (Dramaturgical Display Designer, she/her), Sammi Grant (Dialect Coach, she/her), Regina Victor (Associate Director, pharaoh/they/them) and Katie Klemme (Stage Manager, she/her). Understudies are Ashli Rene Funches (any pronoun), Stephanie Mattos (she/her) and Jenese Upton (she/her).

Adhana Reid as student Niya Kenny shares her personal experience with police interference in the classroom.


Originally performed as a one-woman show by creator Anna Deavere Smith, this 2017 Obie Award-winning production was hailed by The Guardian as “captivating political theatre, a devastating document of racial inequality and the most rousing of rallying calls. Everyone should watch it, at least once.” Deeply human, profoundly moving, and full of moments of humor, compassion, and resilience, it’s a masterful work that makes it impossible to look away from the urgent need for change.

Said TimeLine Artistic Director PJ Powers, “Notes from the Field is the latest installment of what Anna Deavere Smith has referred to as her life’s work: a series of plays she calls On the Road: A Search for American Character. It’s a provocation, highlighting on-the-ground difference-makers who, in their own way, are instigators of change, from household names to a few brave Americans who were unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight of history as outspoken voices for change.”

Shariba Rivers as educator Sari Muhonen explains how student discipline and assistance in Finland differs from the United States.


Previews are Wednesday, January 31 through Friday, February 2 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, February 3 at 4 p.m.; Sunday, February 4 at 2 p.m.; and Tuesday, February 6 at 7:30 p.m. Press Night is Wednesday, February 7 at 7:30 p.m. Opening Night is Thursday, February 8 at 7:30 p.m. (sold out). Regular performances continue through March 24: Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 p.m. Exceptions: No 4 p.m. show Saturday, February 10; and no performances on Saturday, March 16 and Sunday, March 17. There are three added performances: Tuesday, March 12 at 7:30 p.m. and matinees on Wednesday, March 13 at 2 p.m. and Thursday, March 14 at 2 p.m.


Single tickets to Notes from the Field are $35-$67. For tickets and information, visit or call the TimeLine Box Office at (773) 281-8463 x6.

Preview tickets are $35. Single tickets to regular performances are $52 (all evening performances) and $67 (all matinee performances). Student discount is 35% off regular price with valid ID. TimeLine is also a member of TCG’s Blue Star Theatre Program and is offering $25 tickets to U.S. military personnel, veterans, first responders, and their spouses and family.

Ticket buyers ages 18-35 may join TimeLine’s free MyLine program to obtain access to discounted tickets, special events and more. Discounted rates for groups of 10 or more are also available. Visit for more about available discounts.


Notes from the Field will take place at TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave., in Chicago’s Lakeview East neighborhood, near the corner of Wellington and Broadway, inside Chabad East Lakeview, the former Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ building. TimeLine is served by multiple CTA trains and buses. There are multiple paid parking options nearby, plus limited free and metered street parking. Visit for details and available discounts.


Post-Show Discussions: A brief, informal post-show discussion hosted by a TimeLine Company Member and featuring the dramaturg and members of the production team on Thursday, February 15; Sunday, February 18; Thursday, March 7; and Wednesday, March 13 (2 p.m. matinee).

Pre-Show Discussions: Starting one hour before the performance, a 25-minute introductory conversation hosted by a TimeLine Company Member and the dramaturg on Thursday, February 22, and Sunday, March 10.

Company Member Discussion: A post-show discussion with the collaborative team of artists who choose TimeLine’s programming and guide the company’s mission on Sunday, February 25.

Sunday Scholars Panel Discussion: A one-hour panel discussion featuring experts on the themes and issues of the play alongside a member of the production team in a moderated discussion, following the performance on Sunday, March 3.

All discussions are free and open to the public. For details, visit


Mask-wearing is no longer required at TimeLine performances. Exception: One scheduled Distanced Performance for each production. Anyone is welcome to attend the Distanced Performance, but due to very limited capacity, we ask that immunocompromised patrons be given the first chance to reserve. 

While masking is no longer required at most performances, TimeLine supports an individual’s choice to mask and will continue to make good quality masks available upon request. Protocols are subject to change based on current public health recommendations; for the most current information, visit


Following Notes from the Field, TimeLine’s 2023-24 subscription season finale is another riveting play that links past, present and future, the world premiere of Black Sunday by Dolores Díaz. Developed through TimeLine’s Playwrights Collective and directed by Sandra Marquez, Black Sunday is a startling look at conflicts of climate change, race, and gender in the days leading up to an infamous dust storm in 1930s Texas. Previews start May 8, 2024. Press opening is Wednesday, May 15 at 7:30 p.m. Performances run through June 29.


TimeLine Theatre Company, recipient of the prestigious 2016 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions, was founded in April 1997 with a mission to present stories inspired by history that connect with today's social and political issues. Currently celebrating its 27th season, TimeLine has presented 90 productions, including 13 world premieres and 41 Chicago premieres, and launched the Living History Education Program and TimeLine South summer arts program, which bring the company's mission to life for students in Chicago Public Schools and beyond. Recipient of the Alford-Axelson Award for Nonprofit Managerial Excellence and the Richard Goodman Strategic Planning Award from the Association for Strategic Planning, TimeLine has received 60 Jeff Awards, including an award for Outstanding Production 11 times.

The company has long been bursting at the seams of its current leased home located at 615 W. Wellington Avenue in Chicago’s Lakeview East neighborhood, where the theatre has been in residence since 1999. The company is currently working to develop its new home, located at 5035 North Broadway in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. Plans feature an intimate black box theater seating up to 250 audience members, expanded area for the immersive lobby experiences that are a TimeLine hallmark, new opportunities for education and engagement, room to allow audience members to arrive early and stay late for theatergoing experiences that extend far beyond the stage, and more.

TimeLine is led by Artistic Director PJ Powers, Executive Director Mica Cole, and Board President John Sterling. TimeLine Company members are Tyla Abercrumbie, Will Allan, Nick Bowling, Janet Ulrich Brooks, Behzad Dabu, Charles Andrew Gardner, Lara Goetsch, Juliet Hart, Anish Jethmalani, Mildred Marie Langford, Mechelle Moe, David Parkes, Ron OJ Parson, PJ Powers, and Maren Robinson.

Major corporate, government and foundation donors providing season support via TimeLine’s Annual Fund include: Abe and Ida Cooper Foundation; Crown Family Philanthropies; Joseph & Bessie Feinberg Foundation; Laughing Acres Family Foundation; Lloyd A. Fry Foundation; The MacArthur Fund for Culture, Equity, and the Arts at Prince; Polk Bros. Foundation; The Shubert Foundation; Van Dam Charitable Foundation; and Walder Foundation. TimeLine also acknowledges the support of a CityArts Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events and a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.


Anna Deavere Smith (Playwright) is an actress, teacher, playwright, and the creator of the acclaimed On the Road series of one-woman plays, which are based on her interviews with diverse voices from communities in crisis. A recipient of the National Humanities Medal from President Obama and two Obie Awards, her work has also been nominated for a Pulitzer and two Tonys. Onscreen, she has appeared in many films and television shows, including Philadelphia, The West Wing, Black-ish, and Nurse Jackie. She is University Professor in the department of Art & Public Policy at New York University, where she also directs the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue. In 2019, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Mikael Burke (Director) is a Chicago-based director, deviser, and educator, making his TimeLine directing debut. A Princess Grace Award-winner in Theatre and Jeff Award-nominated director, Burke has worked with Goodman, Chicago Shakespeare, Remy Bumppo, Victory Gardens, Northlight, Raven, Jackalope, First Floor, The Story, and Refracted in Chicago, and regionally with Yale Rep, Forward Theatre, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Indiana Rep, Theatreworks Hartford, Urbanite, Theatreworks Colorado Springs, Asolo Rep, Geva, Phoenix Theatre Indianapolis, and Third Avenue Playworks. Burke previously served as Associate Artistic Director at both About Face Theatre and First Floor Theater, and adjuncts at DePaul and Roosevelt universities. Recent directing credits include the world premiere of The Salvagers by Harrison David Rivers (Yale Rep); Blues for an Alabama Sky by Pearl Cleage (Remy Bumppo); the Chicago premiere of Tambo & Bones by Dave Harris (Refracted); Clyde’s by Lynn Nottage (Theatreworks Hartford); and The Magnolia Ballet by Terry Guest (About Face; 2022 Jeff Award – Production, Short Run). He holds an MFA in Directing from The Theatre School at DePaul University.

Mildred Marie Langford as activist Bryan Stevenson shares how speaking out can help make the change we need.

Mildred Marie Langford has been a TimeLine Company Member since 2012. She was last seen last season at TimeLine in the world premiere of Boulevard of Bold Dreams, as well as in A Raisin in the Sun (BTAA nomination), My Kind of Town and In Darfur (Black Excellence Award nomination). Other credits include The Bluest Eye (A Noise Within Theatre, Los Angeles), The Great Jheri Curl Debate (East West Players, Los Angeles), Intimate Apparel (Northlight; BTAA, Equity Jeff, and Black Excellence award nominations–Best Actress), Gunshot Medley: Part 1 (CAB/Rogue Machine Theatre, Los Angeles; Ovation award nomination–Lead Actress), Native Son (Antaeus Theatre Company/Kirk Douglas Theatre 2019 Block Party, Los Angeles), Domesticated, Animal Farm, Venus and The Crucible (Steppenwolf), The Royale (American Theater Company, BTAA winner–Best Featured Actress), Luck of the Irish (Next), A Raisin in the Sun (Milwaukee Rep) and Failure: A Love Story (Victory Gardens). TV and film credits include Grey’s Anatomy, Bosch, Delilah, Chicago Med, Masters of Sex, Magic Funhouse, and the indie film projects Cotton Candy Bubble Gum, Morning Steep, The Three Phases of Isa, Upload, Dignity, Your Beautiful Baby, Concrete Rose and Analysis Paralysis.

Adhana Reid as artist and activist Bree Newsome shares her story of taking down a Confederate flag in South Carolina.

Adhana Reid is making her Timeline Theatre debut. Her Chicago credits include School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play (Goodman Theatre), Rocky Horror Picture Show (Haven Theatre), The MLK Project (Writers Theatre), Sheepdog (Shattered Globe), A Christmas Carol and The Color Purple (Drury Lane Theatre); Little Shop of Horrors (Mercury Theatre), Eclipsed (Pegasus), Big River (Theatre at the Center) and Spring Awakening (Marriott Theatre).

Shariba Rivers as pastor Jamal Harrison Bryant urges his congregation to break the stigmas around them and fight back.

Shariba Rivers had her TimeLine debut last season with her critically acclaimed portrayal of Wiletta Mayer in Alice Childress’ Trouble in Mind. Other Chicago credits include The Nacirema Society (Goodman), The October Storm and Hoodoo Love (Raven), Sweat (Paramount), Small Jokes about Monsters (16th Street), The Tasters (Rivendell) and In the Canyon (Jackalope). Regional credits include Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Arts Center of Coastal Carolina), School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play (TheatreSquared, Fayetteville, AK) and We are Continuous (Geva Theatre, Rochester, NY). Film/TV credits include Smoking Gun!, Chicago Med, Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. (NBC), The Chi (Showtime) and Empire (Fox).

For more information, visit or Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram (@TimeLineTheatre on all platforms).

Mildred Marie Langford as educator Stephanie Williams tells an emotional story of her experience in an elementary classroom, in TimeLine Theatre Company’s Chicago premiere production of Notes from the Field, by Anna Deavere Smith and directed by Mikael Burke. Presented at TimeLine Theatre, January 31 – March 24, 2024. Production photo by Brett Beiner Photography.

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