There’s a cinematic quality to Objects in the Mirror, now playing at Goodman Theatre in a production directed by Chuck Smith. Minimal and expansive, Riccardo Hernandez’s scenic design dwarfs the cast, the theatrical equivalent of film’s extreme wide shot. This decision serves to alienate most of the cast from their environment, an especially effective choice in the case of the play’s protagonist, Shedrick Yarkpai, played by Daniel Kyri.
Shedrick, a Liberian refugee struggling to make a new life in Australia, has reason to feel at odds with the worlds he finds himself in. In a Guinean refugee camp, Shedrick and his family are faced with violent oppression, as well as a variety of diseases contracted almost monthly. Yet, even in Australia, it is hard for him to feel safe. His treacherous journey and his uncle, John Workolo (Allen Gilmore), have taught him to always be on the alert, lest he be deported. To make matters worse, he has taken on a new name in his exodus, an identity that haunts him.
For the majority of the first act, Charles Smith’s writing places the narrative in the mouth of Shedrick. He tells his caregiver, Rob Mosher, an Australian lawyer whose somewhat inscrutable motives seem to be well-meaning, how he came to Australia and the hardships and deceptions he faced in his departure. Played by Ryan Kitley, Mosher never fully reveals the reasoning behind his interest in Shedrick; however, his presence in the young refugee’s life poses a risk to Shedrick, his uncle, and his other family members, as John so steadfastly points out to Shedrick. The second act more deeply explores Shedrick’s ethical quandaries as he hopes to rectify the disconnect between truth and fiction.
As we follow this true narrative throughout several countries, camps, and homes, projections serve as guideposts to the stories unfolding on stage. In the first act, some of Mike Tutaj’s projections are lost while projected onto swaths of reflective, corrugated metal; however, this doesn’t derail the storytelling too much because the bulk of the narrative rests on Kyri’s well-equipped shoulders.
As Shedrick, Kyri is highly watchable, leading you from event to event with a grounded portrayal of the weight of his situation. His expressiveness makes it easy to empathize with Shedrick’s internal struggles, anchoring you in the play’s ethical conflict. The rest of the cast is also uniformly solid, particularly Allen Gilmore as John. In a scene late in the play’s second act, Gilmore shows just how much his journey has affected the way he lives his life, twisting facts and promises to protect himself above all us.
With memorable visuals and a strong cast, this production presents complicated questions with a casualness that allows their weight to be fully felt by the audience. While the script’s monologue-heavy first act keeps audiences at a measured distance, there are understandable benefits to this approach when juxtaposed against the more realistic two-person scenes that populate the second half of the play. Ultimately, Objects in the Mirror ponders how linked our identities are to the stories of our past and those that we tell ourselves.
Objects in the Mirror runs through June 4 at Goodman Theatre. Tickets ($20-$75) are available at GoodmanTheatre.org/Objects or by calling 312.443.3800.