By Arlene Jones
I love going to plays. Sadly, I don't go as often as I would like. Yet when I do take in a play, the idea that an entire story or memoir of someone's life can be told in 2½ hours by someone performing "live" is just shy of being a miracle.
This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend the final preview performance of the Black Ensemble Theatre's production, I am who I am (the story of Teddy Pendergrass). The last time I had the opportunity to see one of their productions, it took place at their previous location on North Beacon Street. After raising nearly $20 million to acquire and design their own theater, I was anxious to see the new location. It is a stunning edifice on North Clark Street, magnificent inside and out.
For those who came of age in the 1970s and '80s, Teddy Pendergrass was our sensual ideal. He was the poster child for "tall, dark and handsome." His sexy songs, complemented by his sexy stage presence, gave black women our own idol that we could scream, faint and salivate over. Plus Teddy had a buff body, which he utilized to add to his appeal. I saw him in concert twice when I was younger. The first time was at an event at Soldier Field and then in the early 1980s at the Golf Mill Theatre.
It's no secret that Teddy Pendergrass was a ladies' man. The play, which is based on his autobiography, Truly Blessed, managed to cover that point nicely. It is also no secret that Teddy was involved in a horrific car crash that left him paralyzed from the neck down. At the time of the accident, it was revealed that the person in the car with him was a transgender female. The play managed to address that issue as well.
There are two performers playing the role of Teddy Pendergrass. There is the young Teddy, performing with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, who was their featured performer. He later decides to strike out on his own while still maintaining a relationship with the writing team of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, an award-winning team who produced 15 gold singles and 22 gold albums.
If the Black Ensemble Theatre needs a new subject to create a play about, that writing duo would definitely be one whose story needs to be told. But I digress.
The second actor plays Teddy as an older individual and as the one who spent 28 years in a wheelchair after the car accident.
I really enjoyed how the play interacted with the audience. Each actor played their role to perfection and greeted us at the end of the performance. One of the things I noticed is that our young people were not out in force. I saw one young man, who was attending the play with his parents, and he appeared to be around 10 years old. I remember taking my son to see a play at Black Ensemble Theatre when he was around that age. Such exposure for our young people is a good and entertaining way of allowing them to see and enjoy live theater.
The Teddy Pendergrass story will be playing at the theater until the end of this month. I highly recommend it. www.blackensembletheatre.org.
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