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Controversial Rahm Skit Stays in Teen Play, Sells Out Opening Night

By Alisa Hauser | February 3, 2014 12:00pm
 "Cold Summer," a playformance about Chicago's violence and the young people living in it, runs at 6:30 p.m. Fridays and 2:30 p.m. Saturday through Feb. 15.
"Cold Summer" at Free Street Theater
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NOBLE SQUARE — A sketch critical of Mayor Rahm Emanuel that was too controversial for a city after school program has made its way to Noble Square's Free Street Theater.

In "Cold Summer," Omari Ferrell, a junior from Kenwood Academy, plays "Mayor Rahmye," a cross between Emanuel and Kanye West, who proclaims, "I'm Hitler, Stalin, Christopher Columbus."

The sketch was conceived last summer during an after school arts program founded by the late Maggie Daley. Officials at After School Matters told the adult director, Ricardo Gamboa, that the sketch was not acceptable, Gamboa said. After School Matters also objected to the use of obscenities.

Because they didn't want to lose funding, the ensemble produced an improv show in August that met the approval of After School Matters, fulfilling the requirement of putting on a final show for the summer program, Gamboa said.

 Members of The Young Fugitives with director Ricardo Gamboa, third from center in bottom row.
Members of The Young Fugitives with director Ricardo Gamboa, third from center in bottom row.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

But they have since continued working on "Cold Summer" as an independent production and have rehearsed in the Pilsen home of Gamboa's parents.

Billed as a "playformance," "Cold Summer" opened Friday to a soldout crowd at the 50-seat Free Street Theater, 1419 W. Blackhawk St. in Noble Square.

Described by its creators "a play about Chicago's violence by the young people living in it," the show was written by 12 members of an ensemble that calls itself "The Young Fugitives."

In the sketch, "Mayor Rahmye" refuses to answer questions from a mob of reporters asking about school closings and the shuttering of mental health clinics. Finally, Rahmye responds, "You ain't got the answers."

"They didn't want to let it go, they wanted more people to see it," Gamboa said of the teen thespians, who attend several Chicago Public high schools.

Ferrell, 16, said he got the idea for the "you ain't got the answers" line after watching West's outburst during an interview and then added it to an earlier version of the same sketch. Gamboa encouraged participants to draw from their experiences.

After a routine visit to the workshop, an After School Matters representative took a copy of the script and said "you can't critique the mayor," Gamboa said. The group was also told to "take out parts, swear words," he added.

"Mayor Rahmye" is only a small part of the 90-minute play, said Gamboa, a writer and filmmaker who worked with the teens as part of Commercial Free, a youth performance arm of the Yollocalli Arts Reach and After School Matters.

After School Matters spokesman Michael Crowley said in a statement that performances are presented before audiences that include families and younger children. After School "strongly discourages any content, including but not limited to profanity and defamation, which could be considered disturbing or inappropriate for such audiences," Crowley said.

After School officials tell program leaders the policies prior to the start of all program sessions and during the creation of the presentations, he said. The policies are included in program contracts, Crowley added.

After School has "standards and policies to protect the best interests of our teens and to help them succeed in our programs," he said.

In one part of the sketch, one character calls Emanuel "a bad man who closes down schools, a bad man who doesn't know how to slice meat," the latter referring to an accident the mayor had as a teenager working at Arby's that resulted in the loss of a finger.

Though "Rahmye" may have been the most controversial, the rest of the play tackles heavy issues, including the death of friends and parents, anger and frustration over gangs, gender roles and the depiction of Chicago violence in the media.

Weaved throughout the sketches are first-person monologues. One student talks about witnessing another student get stabbed with a pencil while using a urinal in a CPS bathroom. Tyran Freeman, a junior at John Hope College Prep, talks about grieving over a cousin who was beaten by 20 people and was on life support for two days before he died.

"Everything they say is their true story," said Gamboa, 33, who has been volunteering his time to fly back to his hometown of Chicago to work with the ensemble between working on his own career in New York City, where he lives.

Though the students received a stipend for being in After School Matters, they receive no money now that the play is independently produced under the The Young Fugitives banner.

Gamboa said the members of the ensemble are using proceeds from tickets sales for bus and train fare to and from rehearsals and performances at Free Street.

In addition to the Noble Square theater, rehearsals were also held at Benton House in Bridgeport and Gamboa's parents' home.

Eliseo Real, 18, dropped out of Farragut Academy but continues to perform with The Young Fugitives.

After a matinee performance Saturday, Real said, "We have a lot of freedom. The only guideline is speak the truth."

"Cold Summer" runs at 6:30 p.m. Fridays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays through Feb. 15 at Free Street Theater, 1419 W. Blackhawk St. inside the Pulaski Park Field House, 3rd Floor. Tickets are 5-$20 or pay what you can. Purchase tickets online or at the door.