Goodman Theatre's 'Pullman Porter Blues' Moves Through History With Poignant Stories And Songs of Hope

I have a confession to make: I am not a huge fan of period dramas. For me, it feels like the artistic community is stuck in the past and not willing to embrace the present. 

But there's a new play in Chicago that does a wonderful job connecting the past with the present. 

E. Faye Butler (left) and Larry Marshall (right) jam in 'Pullman Porter Blues.' (Courtesy: Goodman Theatre)

"Pullman Porter Blues" (which opens tonight at The Goodman Theatre) is a tribute to the African-American porters who cared for passengers in some of America's most turbulent times. Written by Chicago's own Cheryl R. West, the 2 hour-40 minute play moves just like the trains that those porters rode on: at a steady pace with very few stops. 

The story is centered around three generations of porters: Monroe Sykes (Larry Marshall), an elderly veteran of the rails; Sylvester Sykes (Cleavant Derricks), the defiant and overbearing son of Monroe; and Cephas Sykes (newcomer Tosin M0rohunfola), the people-pleasing and uptight collegiate son of Sylvester/ grandson of Monroe. 

And there are a couple of ladies joining them on their journeyboth invited and unexpected. Chicago theater favorite E. Faye Butler plays Sister Juba in one of her most dramatic roles yet. And another newcomer, Claire Kander, undergoes an amazing transformation as Lutie an unkempt vagrant who develops a risky interracial friendship with Cephas.

Overall, "Pullman Porter Blues" is a delightful theatrical time capsule which helps the audience draw parallels between history and the present day. While some elements seem unbelievable like Cephas and Lutie's having a long conversation out in the open on the train's roofthere are plenty of relateable scenarios that will bring a few tears for those willing to be vulnerable with their emotions. 

"Pullman Porter Blues" runs until October 20. 

Click here for more information. 

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