Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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New Biograph Theater opens with ‘Denmark’

By Emily Glazer

Ever thought a dollar could buy you freedom? In Denmark, the inaugural production at the new Biograph Theater, a dollar is all it takes.

From the opening scene, the audience becomes a part of the show. With a small cast of seven, there are many innovative aspects of the play that couldn’t be done with a larger cast.

The highlight of the show is Anthony Fleming III who plays the title role, Denmark Vesey. His movement throughout the show makes it seem like he is dancing with his words. Every scene change Fleming makes is not done to hide his character but rather to keep the audience engaged while holding on to his role.

Though the drama revolves around the inferiority of slaves in the 1800s, Fleming adds unexpected humor throughout the show, which is bounced off other characters.

Joining Fleming is Velma Austin, who plays Beck, Denmark’s love. Not only does she play off Fleming’s humor, but also her ability to display disappointment and frustration with so few words brings depth to her character.

After Denmark’s lottery ticket wins, he is faced between choosing to buy Beck’s freedom or building a church for the black people of Charleston. This significance is enhanced so much more in the show by the reality of the events.

Often a play is remembered by its actors. Denmark, however, encompasses all aspects of theater, from the set to the lighting to the sound. The set draws the audience into the time period. Fleming does carpentry work on stage and Kenn E. Head, who plays Omar Sewell, uses trap doors that fit in perfectly with his mysterious character.

The lighting makes the play come to life. Candles shine from above, tree shadows are cast for outdoor scenes and darkness presents gloominess without masking any characters. The sound adds to the show at opportune moments without being overbearing.

And some of that offstage work happens to come from a small Northwestern family. Mary Griswold, set designer of Denmark, received the first MFA in set design from NU. Coincidentally director Dennis Zacekappeared as an actor on her first set at NU.

Denmark was written by Charles Smith, a founding member of the Victory Gardens Playwrights Ensemble and former NU professor of playwriting.

The Victory Gardens Theater is known for the most world premieres than any other theater in the city, Zacek says, who is also the art director of the Victory Gardens Theater. As the theater’s art director, Zacek has the final call on which plays are chosen. “(Denmark) demonstrates diversity….and that is a key part of who we (Victory Gardens Theater) are,” he says. Joining Zacek is his wife, Marcelle McVay, managing director of the theater.

As an alumna, McVay says she knows it’s hard to leave Evanston, but she urges students to move beyond Howard Street.

“Cross the border into Chicago because it’s worth the trip,” she says.

Denmark will run until Nov. 12 at the Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets are $25-45 and can be bought by calling (773) 871-3000 or going to www.victorygardens.org.

Medill freshman Emily Glazer is a PLAY writer. She can be reached at [email protected].

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
New Biograph Theater opens with ‘Denmark’