Chicago playwright and TimeLine Theatre company member Tyla Abercrumbie weaves a mother’s past with her daughters’ present in Relentless, a centuries-spanning tale of family, legacy, and progress set in the Black Victorian age, receiving its world premiere after a nearly two-year delay. The new work was developed through the company’s Playwrights Collective and now serves as the first production in TimeLine’s 25th Anniversary season.
Directed by Timeline company member Ron OJ Parson, Relentless begins previews January 19. Performances run through February 26, 2022 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood.
Set in the Black Victorian era, the year is 1919. After the death of their mother, two sisters come home to Philadelphia to settle her estate. Annelle is a happy socialite desperate to return to the safe illusion of a perfect life with her husband in Boston. Janet, a single, professional nurse, is determined to change history and propel Black women to a place of prominence and respect. After discovering diaries left by their late mother, the sisters find themselves confronted with a woman they never really knew, exposing buried truths from the past that are chillingly, explosively relentless.
The cast reunites TimeLine’s Too Heavy for Your Pocket co-stars Ayanna Bria Bakari (she/her) and Jaye Ladymore (she/her) as sisters Annelle and Janet, with Rebecca Hurd (she/her) as Mary Elizabeth, Xavier Edward King as Franklin, Demetra Dee (she/her) as Zhuukee/Annabelle Lee, and Travis Delgado (he/him) as Marcus.
Relentless received its first public reading in December 2018 as part of TimeLine’s inaugural First Draft Playwrights Collective Festival. In March 2020, rehearsals were about to begin for its planned TimeLine world premiere when the production was postponed due to COVID-19. In September 2020, the play was showcased in an online event titled “Relentless: The Journey from the Black Victorian to Black Lives Matter” as part of TimeLine’s virtual Setting the Stage public program series. An edited version of that program may be viewed at youtube.com/timelinetheatre.
Relentless will be the second play brought to full production through TimeLine’s Playwrights Collective, launched in 2013 to support Chicago-based playwrights in residence and create new work centered on TimeLine’s mission of presenting plays inspired by history that connect to today’s social and political issues. The first was the 2018 world premiere of Brett Neveu’s To Catch a Fish.
“I don’t know that this story has ever been told from the perspective of these types of characters, at least not in this genre,” said Abercrumbie, a veteran Chicago actor of stage and screen, best known most recently for her recurring role as Nina on Showtime’s The Chi. “Often the part of American history that is labeled Black History—specifically as it relates to how and when Black Victorians existed and were effective—is largely left out, somehow. Either it’s collectively agreed that it didn’t exist, or IF it did exist, its importance to the American landscape is deemed irrelevant or at best insignificant, and therefore a collective demand that it be forgotten or “gotten over” has been nurtured and accepted. Many of the themes the characters in Relentless deal with remain very relevant today—racism, sexism, feminism, poverty, mental illness, infant mortality, police brutality. Those battles have been relentlessly fought over and over, yet here we are in 2022 still fighting against the same injustices.”
“It’s about time we see a play about the Black Victorian age,” said director Ron OJ Parson. “I am honored to be working on this play that explores us as a people at the forefront of a battle that continues today in our quest for equality. Thank you TimeLine, and thank you Tyla for this beautiful play.”
In accordance with current City of Chicago requirements—which are similar to protocols previously adopted by a coalition of more than 70 performing arts venues and producers across Chicagoland— TimeLine will ensure COVID-19 vaccination and mask requirements for audiences, artists, and staff attending Relentless at Theater Wit. In general, current protocols require that patrons be masked and fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine in order to attend. These protocols are subject to change as the pandemic evolves. For the most current information about TimeLine’s COVID-19 safety protocols, visit timelinetheatre.com/health-and-safety.
Single tickets to Relentless go on sale Tuesday, January 4, via timelinetheatre.com or by calling the theater’s box office at (773) 281-8463 x6. Preview tickets are $25. Single tickets to regular performances are $42 (Wednesday through Friday), $49 (Saturday evenings) and $57 (Saturday and Sunday matinees). Student discount is 35% off regular price with valid ID. TimeLine is also a member of TCG’s Blue Star Theatre Program and is offering $25 tickets to U.S. military personnel, veterans, first responders, and their spouses and family.
Visit timelinetheatre.com for more information.