OBJECTS IN THE MIRROR
By Charles Smith
Directed by Chuck Smith
Dates: October 30 – November 15
In 2009, playwright Charles Smith traveled to Adelaide, Australia, to see a production of his play Free Man of Color, which originally premiered at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater and earned Smith the 2004 Jeff Award for Best New Work. A dramatization of the life of John Newton Templeton, an African American man who graduated from Ohio University nearly 40 years before the abolition of slavery, the Adelaide production featured a young Liberian actor named Shedrick Yarkpai in the title role. Impressed by Shedrick’s talent and intrigued by his life story, Smith got to know the young actor and learned about his tumultuous journey from war-torn Liberia, through a number of refugee camps in Western Africa, before his final relocation to Australia.
Shedrick came of age during the bloody rule of Charles Taylor, an American-educated freedom fighter turned warlord who served as president of Liberia from 1997 to 2002; during this time Taylor ran the country as a personal fiefdom, looting its resources and instigating rebellion across the region. Opposition to his rule culminated in the outbreak of a civil war in Liberia that lasted from 1999 to 2003, a conflict marked by its rampant use of child soldiers, young boys abducted and pressed into service by both pro- and anti-government forces. Taylor’s forces organized these child soldiers into “small boy units.” Roving groups were composed of up to 10,000 boys, most of whom were between the ages of eight and 10.
It was from this environment that the young Shedrick escaped with his uncle John, moving from refugee camp to refugee camp in hopes of finding their names on a list of those shortlisted for relocation to the United States. Along the way Shedrick lost family members to war and disease–and when his dead cousin Zaza’ s name appeared on a list of refugees granted asylum in Australia, Shedrick took on his late relative’s identity in order to gain a new home and a new life.
He arrives safely in Adelaide, but Shedrick Yarkpai has vanished in the rear-view mirror, leaving Zaza Workolo in his place. Shedrick has lost his country, his childhood, most of his family and now his own name. He’s now haunted by the ghost of the cousin whose name he assumed and can’t relinquish the person he used to be. Playwright Smith, reunited here with longtime collaborator and Goodman Resident Director Chuck Smith, chronicles Shedrick’s quest to recover his sense of self is the in this moving new play about hope, memory and survival.