Plantation!, now receiving its world premiere in a production at Lookingglass Theatre directed by David Schwimmer, is a comedic take on race and reparations in the 21st century. Written by Lookingglass ensemble member Kevin Douglas, it explores how one Texas family can atone for the past when the complicated history of their family fortune is revealed. While this may sound like the set-up for a much heavier play, Douglas’ comedy treats these questions as touchstones within a broader farce, favoring silliness over solutions.
Lillian (Janet Ulrich Brooks), the Texas matriarch of a family in the cotton business, has traced her home’s history and discovered its infamous past as a plantation built on the backs of hundreds of slaves. Desperate to make amends, she hires a genealogist and invites three living relatives–London (Lily Mojekwu), Sydney (Ericka Ratcliff), and Madison (Tamberla Perry)–to visit her family in Texas. Lillian informs them of her desire to give them the will to the land. Her daughters, however, are blindsided by this revelation. Desperate to hold on to their affluent digs, Kara (Linsey Page Morton), Kimberly (Louise Lamson) and Kayley (Grace Smith) attempt to sabotage the character of the three Chicagoans. Hannah Gomez plays the maid who can’t believe she’s caught up in all of this. Hijinks ensue.
The strengths of Plantation! lie within its broad comedic execution and all-female cast. Douglas has written Plantation! in such a way as to appeal to a variety of sensibilities and humors without alienating a single comedy camp. Plantation! is peppered with something for everyone: slapstick chases, satirical barbs, self-aware punchlines, wordplay, and even a bawdy subplot involving a character’s attempt to have sex on a horse.
Being a farce, Plantation! doesn’t always demand much from its actors. Subject matter aside, Douglas’ characters fit neatly into familiar archetypes. Even so, Schwimmer’s ensemble does much to elevate the humanity of each actor’s character. As Lillian, Brooks offers a performance that is genuine and identifiable, as does Linsey Page Morton in the role of the eldest daughter. Lily Mojekwu’s performance as London is both conflicted and well-intentioned. Her final moments on stage help to reintroduce gravity into the piece, even as it neatly comes to a conclusion.
Whether or not you enjoy Plantation! will largely relate to whether or not you feel there’s enough substance amidst the boisterous scheming. Even as Douglas raises contentious issues, his treatment of each character’s culpability is less about nuance and more about posing a different viewpoint. As a conversation-starter–and an enjoyable one, at that–Plantation! straddles the line between entertaining and educating without ever getting too uncomfortable. Still, its mostly respectful approach to all perspectives and surface-level politics feel more in service to the play’s genre than the current cultural climate.
Plantation! continues through April 22 at Lookingglass Theatre at 821 N. Michigan Ave. Tickets are $40-$75 and are available by calling 312-337-0665 or online at www.lookingglasstheatre.org.