The Crusader Newspaper Group

The New Wirtz Center presents boundary-pushing shows about a violent history

The Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for Performing and Media Arts in Chicago hosted two new and innovative productions exploring little-known truths about the history of slavery. Brian Quijada and Nygel D. Robinson’s “Mexodus” was staged in late April, and the Ars Nova Production of “Underground Railroad Game” will be presented May 18 to May 20.

WIRTZ CHICAGO’S LARGEST theater space is state-of-the-art and includes 80-100 seats.

Since the fall of 2021, Wirtz Center Chicago, located at 710 N. Lake Shore Drive on Northwestern’s Chicago campus, has presented new works by visiting artists and ensembles, including Atlanta-based Alliance Theater’s production of “Native Guard,” based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book of poems by Natasha Trethewey, as well as student productions and events. Located inside Abbott Hall, Wirtz Center Chicago is a state-of-the-art facility that fosters innovation among local and visiting artists, scholars and theatremakers. Minutes from the Loop and within walking distance of several of Chicago’s most renowned cultural and performing arts spaces, Wirtz Center Chicago offers two new black box theaters, an expansive lobby space and rehearsal rooms –– all much-needed resources for artists and companies looking to create and showcase their work.  Audiences can also take advantage of free parking in the lot adjacent to the theater.

“In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, some theaters and performance spaces that supported new plays and musicals were shuttered,” said Tanya Palmer, assistant dean and executive artistic director for Northwestern’s School of Communication. “The new Wirtz Center Chicago expands Northwestern’s ability to incubate and develop new performance works and fills a growing need for venues presenting innovative work from local, national and international artists to Chicago audiences”

“Underground Railroad Game” is an acclaimed off-Broadway production now getting its Chicago premiere thanks to Wirtz Center Chicago.

“This work, as well as the recently staged “Mexodus,” written by Brian Quijada and Nygel D. Robinson,

shows us how our country’s tragic and violent history has created everything from the location of national borders to unspoken power dynamics and a lot in between,” Palmer said. “We’re excited to be able to offer these two new works to both our campus community and the general public. It’s a taste of the timely and boundary-pushing work that we plan to present in this exciting new space for years to come.”

“Underground Railroad Game” is created by Jennifer Kidwell and Scott R. Sheppard; directed by Taibi Magar and will be performed May 18-19 at 7:30 p.m. and May 20 at 2 p.m.

“Underground Railroad Game” is a satiric, R-rated, kaleidoscopic and fearless comedy in which two middle-school teachers use games to teach uncomfortable lessons about American racial history. The play was inspired by an actual game that co-creator Scott Sheppard was forced to play in fifth grade when his school re-enacted a bizarre version of the Civil War. The students were divided into Union and Confederate soldiers and won points for their team for either capturing Black dolls that represented escaped slaves or helped them flee to Canada.

“Underground Railroad Game” premiered at Ars Nova in New York in 2016 and was named one of the “25 best American plays since ‘Angels in America’” by the New York Times.

Tickets can be purchased online for “Underground Railroad Game.” Tickets  are also available in-person at the Wirtz Center Box Office, located in the Barber Theater lobby at 30 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston, Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, noon to 4 p.m., or by calling (847) 491-7282.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader. She is a National Newspaper Publishers Association ‘Entertainment Writing’ award winner, contributor to “Rust Belt Chicago” and the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood: South Side of Chicago.” For info, Old School Adventures from Englewood—South Side of Chicago ( or email: [email protected].

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