Objects May Be Closer than They Appear

    More stories from Hailey G. Boyle

    Luopu [Lily Mojekwu] says goodbye goodbye to her son Shedrick [Charles Gardner.]

    courtesy of Goodman Theater

    Luopu [Lily Mojekwu] says goodbye goodbye to her son Shedrick [Charles Gardner.]

    “Objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear” is the warning drivers have on their side mirrors, reminding them of any oncoming danger. For Shedrick Yarkpai, it is a painful reminder of the dangerous past he left behind and the fear that it could catch up to him.

    When playwright Charles Smith attended an Australian production of his play, “Free Man of Color,” he met Shedrick Yarkpai, the young Liberian actor in the lead role. As the two talked, Yarkpai told Smith about his childhood in war-torn Liberia and the long, demanding journey through several refugee camps throughout Western Africa before finally relocating in Australia. After hearing Yarkpai’s story, Smith said, “I have to write this play.”

    “Objects in the Mirror” is the result of their conversations. Smith the playwright worked with director Chuck Smith to bring Shedrick’s harrowing tale to life.

    From Shedrick’s youth on his grandfather’s plantation to the loss of his male cousins to the child armies, and from the raucous fun he had with his cousin Zaza to the death of Zaza and his mother at the hands child soldiers. “Objects” lays out a dark and gritty path for Shedrick as he struggles with his sense of family and self and the actions he took to escape Liberia.

    Charles Gardener shines as Shedrick, pulling the audience in as the guilt of stealing his cousin’s identity to get to Australia and guilt of betraying his uncle who got him there begins to eat away at him.

    As part of the Goodman Theatre’s New Stages Festival, “Objects in the Mirror” is a new play being workshopped at Goodman along with “Mother Road” by Octavio Solis, “King of Yees” by Lauren Yee and three staged readings; “Lady in Denmark” by Dael Orlandersmith; “The Amateurs” by Jordan Harrison and “On the Exhale” by Martín Zimmerman.

    The festival is an annual “celebration of innovative new plays, and is designed to give playwrights an opportunity to take risks and experiment,” according to the Goodman website.

    After the performance, the audience had an opportunity to ask Smith questions and express their thoughts. Their response was unanimous; they loved it.

    “I cried during that phone call with his mother,” said one woman about the climax of the play.

    “Objects” was powerful. It painted a potent picture. It portrayed brutal violence without actually showing any of it. It depicted deep heartache without beating the audience in the head with it. It had deep symbolism representing Shedrick’s struggle without being too obvious. An unofficial rule that every writing teacher and mentor I’ve ever had, told me “show, don’t tell.”

    There’s an old cliché, “Paint me a picture.” “Objects” does just that. It treats its audience like intelligent people and allows them to decide for themselves whether Shedrick made the right decision.

    The festival ended on Nov.15. The writers and directors of all the plays have gathered their notes about what worked and what didn’t. “Objects in the Mirror” may get a rewrite or two, but I see great things in its future. It does what a good play does: it tells a good story.