If his breakout performance in Goodman Theatre's "Objects in the Mirror" is any indication, Daniel Kyri is about to become very busy. His achingly authentic portrayal of a Liberian refugee in Charles Smith's timely examination of survival and identity is the kind that attracts attention. Which means you'd be wise to catch the talented young actor now before Broadway or Hollywood come calling.
Kyri plays 15-year-old Shedrick Yarkpai, who flees with his uncle and cousin from his country's interminable civil wars and rebels' forced conscription. Made to surrender his identity to preserve his life, Kyri later struggles to reclaim his name. But his efforts threaten the well-being of his newly resettled family and rile his uncle, who ensured Shedrick's survival by getting him out of the country.
"Objects in the Mirror"★ ★ ★
Location: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, (312) 443-3800 or goodmantheatre.org
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday through June 4. Also 7:30 p.m. May 23 and 2 p.m. June 1. No 7:30 p.m. show May 28
Running time: About two hours, 15 minutes including intermission
Parking: $22 with Goodman validation at the Government Self Park at Lake and Clark streets
Rating: For adults; contains mature subject matter and strong language
Conflicts over loyalty, trust, self-preservation and the despair that comes from suppressing one's true self animate the thought-provoking "Objects in the Mirror."
Kyri's impressive, emotionally charged performance comes on the heels of his stellar turn as a 16-year-old murder suspect in Steppenwolf Theatre's young audiences production of "Monster." In "Objects in the Mirror," Kyri captures the vulnerability and resolve of a young man forced to confront unimaginable atrocities.
As for those atrocities, characters refer to them in this overly talky play, but "Objects" offers no visceral connection to the rapes, beatings and murders committed in Liberia and other warring West African nations. Consequently, the emotional detachment that results often keeps the audience at arm's length.
Still, "Objects in the Mirror" is an original, carefully ambiguous drama in the sense that the characters' survival instincts are so honed, we're never sure if their stories are true or merely tales most likely to preserve their lives. For these refugees, a slip-up could get them deported. That fear keeps them "living on the edges of the world ... living just out of the reach of the light," which is not the life Shedrick wants for himself.
Much of the play's power rests with Smith's ability to credibly convey the refugee mindset, unsurprising since "Objects in the Mirror" is rooted in the real-life experiences of refugee-turned-actor Shedrick Yarkpai. Developed through Goodman's 2015 New Stages Festival, Smith's fictionalized account chronicles Yarkpai's escape from war-torn Liberia, his years spent in overcrowded, disease-ravaged refugee camps and his eventual relocation to Adelaide, Australia.
Helmed with trademark humanity by resident director Chuck Smith (no relation), Goodman's production unfolds on Riccardo Hernandez's minimal set against a curtain of corrugated metal, the backdrop on which Mike Tutaj's projections flicker.
Exceptionally well-acted, Goodman's premiere features an intriguing turn by Allen Gilmore, who artfully balances cunning and congeniality. He plays charismatic John Workolo, the avuncular uncle and ultimate survivor who orchestrates the escape of Kedrick and other family members from West Africa.
"We either survive as one or we perish as one," says the fiercely loyal John, who compels fidelity by any means necessary.
Breon Arzell plays John's son Zaza -- a slightly defined character who functions mainly as a plot device, but not before Arzell delivers a blistering ode to submission and despair. The enigmatic Ryan Kitley plays Rob Mosher, an Australian attorney who befriends Shedrick with the promise of helping him reclaim his name. Rounding out the cast is Lily Mojekwu, a potent presence as Shedrick's mother Luopu Workolo, a survivor and pragmatist who wants only one thing for her son: that he survive.
For her and the others, survival is paramount. For Shedrick, it isn't enough.