Her Honor Jane Byrne: A Realistic Look to “As Long as It Takes!”
Wednesday at 11:31 pm
Chicago, known as the city that works; however, in the winter of 1981, the city was paralyzed by a record January storm. This caused Michael Bilandic to lose his position as mayor against Jane Byrne in the primary election due to his inept handling of one of Chicago’s worst blizzards. Jane Byrne won the Democratic nomination, becoming the first woman mayor of Chicago. However, Byrne inherited a multitude of problems in her first year in office. She battled strikes by transit workers, schoolteachers, and firefighters.
When Byrne demands an answer to how the police are combating crime in Cabrini Green, the answer was simple, “They keep it contained.” They don’t fight it, and they don’t try to prevent it. It is within these realms that we see the bigger context and the works of mobsters and politicians getting a percentage off of the drug sales and Byrnes interferences of their racketeering was not welcome in Cabrini Green. After hearing this, Byrne decided to move in the Cabrini-Green housing project in an attempt to repress the violence.
Lookingglass Theatre presents the world premiere of ‘Her Honor: Jane Byrne’ written by Ensemble Member J. Nicole Brooks.’ It tells the story about Byrne moving into Cabrini Green in March 1981. The play is filled with political drama and focuses on the stigma of African-Americans living in public housing.
To draw attention to the gang violence and the neglect which created deplorable living conditions at Cabrini Green, Jane Byrne decided to move into an apartment, hoping that her presence would diminish crime; while boosting her political career. Although her slogan stated, “As Long as It Takes,” Byrne left the apartment within 20 days.
Although her intentions to combat crime may have been sincere, others thought it was a publicity stunt. The hasty decision to have an Easter celebration, brought about an uproar from protesters of Cabrini-Green, led by lifelong activist and resident Marion Stamps. Byrne angered that her event of posing with children and Easter baskets for the cameras was ruined, she had them arrested, making it one of the most infamous stunts in the city’s history.
Christine Mary Dunford (who plays Jane Byrne) resemblance of Byrne is uncanny. She does an extraordinary job embodying Jane Byrnes’s mannerism down to the hand that shook when she was nervous or uncomfortable.
Thomas J. Cox was very entertaining as the corrupt public official, Alderman Fred Roti of the 1st Ward, who sparred with Mayor Byrne. Cox’s display of loyalty to the “Democratic Machine” (which was established by Mayor Richard J. Daley) set the tone for the many battles Byrne had to endure.
Taron Patton gave a superb performance as longtime resident Marion Stamps, who went toe to toe with Byrne. Frank Nall, who took on two roles, one as Byrnes husband Jay McMullen and the other as police commander. While he played the loving husband well, his role as the police commander was unsettling, as he believed that the cop’s only responsibility was to patrol the area.
Other notable characters that gave stellar performances were Willie “Mudlife Roc” as Kid, the grandson of Mabel, who was trying to find solace in the world in which he lived. Nicole Michelle Haskins makes her Lookingglass Theatre debut as Tiger, the heroic young girl, who took the bull by the horns and temporarily bonded with Mayor Jane Byrne. Robert Cornelius also made his debut at Lookingglass Theatre as the bookseller Black Che. Che, a statesman with the laid back demeanor that knew “What’s Happening,” garnered the respect of the Cabrini Green residents.
J. Nicole Brooks captured the distressing lucidity of African-Americans living in the projects. A heart-rending moment was when an elderly resident Mabel Foley (Renee Lockett), talks to the reporter (Tracy Walsh) and tells her about all of the places she never visited. She mentions London, Paris, and includes downtown Chicago, which is only a few miles away from Mabel’s home. It provides a searing reminder of how the privilege is oblivious in understanding the lives of those stricken from the simple pleasures of life. And how people can become moronic to the plight of those imprisoned in a world of violence and fear.
For a story that took place nearly 40 years ago, “Her Honor: Jane Byrne,” is a mixture of grit and the unflinching truth that Byrne faced during her time in office as mayor. It provides touching moments of raw realism covered with laughter regarding the life of Chicago politics and its segregated communities.
Let’s Play recommend “Her Honor: Jane Byrne” at Lookingglass Theatre.
Her Honor: Jane Byrne
Written and Directed by Ensemble Member J. Nicole Brooks
February 26 – April 12, 2020