by Julia Lee Barclay-Morton · October 13, 2014
Renata Hinrichs' extraordinary one-woman show Random Acts playing now as part of the United Solo Festival is a moving account of her childhood in the late 1960s in the Chicago, during a time of racial strife in which she became a victim as a very young girl, attacked for being white. She was saved from more violence by an older African American boy whom she heard defend her, but did not see before he left. This one moment then resonates through her early childhood in Chicago and teenage years in Minneapolis, until she brings us up to how this incident affects her in the present day.
Hinrichs' is a vibrant, engaging performer (and fabulous writer) of her own story. Her director Camille Saviola has helped her shape a riveting story that had this reviewer in tears for the final 15 minutes. As someone who is not prone to crying in theaters, this was a surprise.
From a child's point of view (through which we see most of the show - a presentation that is neither sentimental nor cloying but charming, humorous and imbued with magical thinking - in other words, like a real child), Hinrichs shows us the riots that began after Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. Her father is a Lutheran pastor in a marginal neighborhood, and their family is targeted by both whites (for being "nigger lovers") and African Americans (for being white). The most dangerous violence, Hinrichs is clear, comes from the white community, and the fatalities - including a teenage boy she fears is the one who helped her - are African American.
The tragic relevance of Hinrichs' piece (in 1968-9) to the situation in Ferguson, Missouri (2014) along with Hinrichs' inability to bridge the racial divide even as she tries throughout her life to do so, makes clear the complexities and depth of the problem we face in this country with racism. However, she also shows us people struggling, however imperfectly, to reach across both sides of this chasm.