By Holli Harms
Chicago’s south side has been divided with invisible demarcations for decades. And the divisions were always clear. Whites on one side of these imaginary lines and blacks on the other. And as Alden Loury wrote, “I concluded, quite simply, that life was better where the white people lived. It’s an understanding held by many Chicagoans, young and old…”
Renata Hinrichs wrote and stars in Random Acts, this well crafted and beautifully written one person play of how one act of kindness can make a difference in the south side of Chicago where she lived. She and her family resided on the west side of Ashland Avenue, the white side. The east side was the black side. Both sides were told not to cross that two way street of racism.
Hinrichs tells the tale of her family moving there when she is just five years old. Her father, a Lutheran minister, had been assigned his first congregation. An assignment that had already been turned down by several others as it is the 60’s and the racial conflicts are tearing the city apart. On both sides, there is anger and distrust. The play is told from the perspective of the five-year-old and Hinrichs captures the joy of a kindergartener, and the love of life and friendship. She reminds us, through details of childhood, that the dust on the windowsill, could be, may be, just possibly fairy dust and children, especially little ones before they’ve been taught, do not see people as colors. They just see people as people and fellow classmates as that – fellow classmates.
She captures so beautifully the innocence of childhood. She dances and sings and skips and twirls and takes us back to our own time of childhood.
There are two incidents that occurred in her life that changed the course not only for her but for those around her. The first is when she was five and spoke to a classmate as they were walking to school. A classmate who happened to be black and who had a sister wary of all whites. The sister attacks five-year-old Hinrichs. But there is someone else there that day on the sidewalk of Ashland Avenue, a young man also black, who helps our young heroine and shows kindness that will not be forgotten. The other incident is at her high school prom. Let’s just say once again, as a teenager, color does not matter to her but that does not mean others feel the same.
This is one woman’s journey through racial divides of the ’60s and ’70s in this country, and a city on the front lines. It is a very personal yet very universal story. There are quiet, breathtaking moments of love and kindness, and a child’s openness to the world that counter the moments of hate and violence.
This is a story about kindness, about acceptance, bullying, peer pressure, friendship, breaking down of stereotypes and all of it told through the sublime, heart lifting performance of Hinrichs.
I left the theatre with tears in my eyes and hope in my heart.
Go and take your middle schooler or high schooler. You will both be better for it.
RANDOM ACTS, written & performed by Renata Hinrichs, directed by Jessi D Hill,
The production team: Matt Otto (sound), Daisy Long (lighting), DeShon Elem Delta(costumes), Chika Shimizu (set), Edisa Weeks (choreography), Eli Kabillo (videographer), Christine Cirker (associate producer), and Samantha Myers (stage manager).
Random Acts TBG MainStage Theatre (312 W. 36th St., Third Floor, NYC 10018) The play runs through 14 to March 2, 2018, at TBG Mainstage Theatre in Manhattan.
Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission
**They are setting aside 20 free tickets at each performance for middle and high school students. If you are a teacher, this show promises to provide a unique window into discussions about coming together in today’s divided world. Teachers can get a free ticket to preview the show if they wish. If you are interested in this opportunity, please contact email@example.com