Rutherford’s Travels

In November 2016, Pegasus Theatre Chicago—the recipient of seventy-seven Joseph Jefferson awards— presented the world premiere of Rutherford’s Travels, an adaptation of the National Book Award-winning novel, Middle Passage, by MacArthur Fellow Charles R. Johnson, who attended the world premiere.

A spellbinding tale based on the beloved book MIDDLE PASSAGE. Told through Rutherford Calhoun’s 1830s log entries, the newly freed Illinois youth has migrated south to New Orleans seeking fortune, where he stows away on an outbound rigger to escape debtors. But The Republic isn’t just any ship. It’s a slave ship and it’s headed to Africa!

The world premiere production was made possible by grants from The Chicago Community Trust, The Paul M. Angell Family Foundation, and The Saints.

About the Production Team

CHARLES JOHNSON (Author, Middle Passage), University of Washington professor emeritus and the author of 21 booksis a novelist, essayist, literary scholar, short-story writer, cartoonist and illustrator, screen-and-teleplay writer, and philosopher. A MacArthur fellow, Johnson received an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature and a National Book Award for his novel Middle Passage. His fiction also includes Dr. King’s Refrigerator, Dreamer, Oxherding Tale, Faith and the Good Thing and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. A native of Evanston, Illinois, he now lives in Seattle.

DAVID BARR, III (Co-Adapter) is the winner of the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Work, the Mixed Blood Versus America National Playwriting Contest, the Edgar Allan Poe Award, the Theodore Ward Contest, Unicorn Theatre National Playwriting Award, the Donahue-Tremaine Trust Award for excellence in playwriting and three Illinois Arts Council Fellowships. His plays, which have been produced at the Goodman Theatre, Chicago Dramatists (where he is a resident playwright alumnus) and many other local and national theaters. His works include The Face of Emmett Till (co-written with Mamie Till Mobley), The Death of the Black Jesus, By the Music of the Spheres, A Red Death (adapted from the Walter Mosley novel of the same title), The Journal of Ordinary Thought, Billy (adapted from the Albert French novel of the same title), Black Caesar, The Upper Room and Every Time I Feel the Spirit. Rutherford’s Travels marks Barr’s fifth world premiere with Pegasus Theatre Chicago. Barr is also a co-writer of the screenplay adaptation of “Death Of Innocence: The Story of Emmett Till and The Hate Crime That Changed America”. This screenplay (adapted from the book of the same name written by Christopher Benson and Mamie Till-Mobley shortly before her death) was optioned by HBO Films for development in 2006.

ILESA DUNCAN (Co-Adapter/Director) is the producing artistic director at Pegasus. Her recent directing work includes For Her as a Piano and Blacula at Pegasus, Darlin’ with Step Up Productions, Broken Fences at 16th Street Theater, the Jeff Award-nominated The Nativity with Congo Square, and the Jeff Award-winning Jar the Floor at ETA Creative Arts. Duncan has also worked with Goodman Theatre, Writers Theatre, Victory Gardens Theater, Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, Lifeline Theater, Stage Left and Chicago Dramatists, as well as Contemporary American Theatre Company (Ohio), The Alliance Theatre (Atlanta), Arena Stage (Washington DC) and Lincoln Center Theater (New York). Ilesa’s creative nonfiction short stories have been published (Columbia College Chicago), and she’s written poems and screenplays.  For the stage, she was a co-writer and director of BLAKK LOVE: STOEEZ OF A DARKER HUE,  and facilitated the group writing project PORTRAITS (2007) for the Chicago Foundation for Women and the devised project DO YOU SEE WHAT I’M SAYING for Chameleon.

SHAWN WALLACE (Music Director/Composer) is a keyboardist, composer and music director. He has music directed and composed for such theatres as MPAACT, Chicago Theatre Company and DanzTheatre Chicago.  He has worked with luminary artists such as Common, Ice Cube, Bobby Brown, Dwele, Johnny Gill, Jon B., Bilal, Estelle, Julie Dexter, Rene Neufville, Rakim, Eric Roberson, Maggie Brown, Ugochi and Cherisse Scott. Shawn studied Music Theory and Composition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and currently serves as Musical Director for two New Thought congregations: The Emmaus Center and the Namaste Center for Spiritual Living-Chicago.  Shawn has worked for several years as a Teaching Artist throughout Chicago schools teaching Record Production and Theatre Tech to youth from 6th through 12th grades. His independent film score credits include; Severed Ties (Showcase Productions/ Lions Gate Films), Puzzle Love (Storybox Productions) and Son of America (Tanskin Productions/N’Spire Entertainment INC).

NICOLE CLARKE-SPRINGER (Choreographer) is a member of Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre where she has performed with artists such as Roberta Flack in Kevin Iega Jeff’s Flack as well as Jennifer Holiday in the world-renowned Penumbra Theatre’s Black Nativity. As a member of Deeply Rooted’s artistic team, Clarke-Springer choreographed works such as Nine, Dounia and Femme, and was Assistant Choreographer to Kevin Iega Jeff for Congo Square Theatre’s Nativity for two years.  In 2013, Nicole was named Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre’s Emerging Choreographer for the program Generations. Nicole received her B.S. in Arts Administration-Dance from Butler University in Indianapolis, IN where she received the award as Butler Ballet’s Outstanding Performer.


Breon Arzell: Rutherford Calhoun
Osiris Khepera: Santos/Diamelo/Riley
Gary Houston: Captain Falcon
Darren Jones: Papa Zerinque
Andrew Malone: Jackson/Ngonyama
Ron Quade: Josiah Squibb
Nelson Rodriguez: Cringle/Rev. Chandler
Tiffany Renee Johnson: Baleka/Almuseri God
Naima Hebrail Kidjo: Isadora/African Mother
Heather Chrisler: Tom/Meadows
David Fehr: McGaffin/Quakenbush


Scenic Design: Elyse Balogh
Lighting Design: Josh Wroblewski
Costume Design: Melissa Perkins
Sound Design: Sarah Putts
Props Design: Alec Long
Violence Design: R&D Choreography
Production Manager: Liam Fitzgerald


Breon Arzell is an actor/choreographer whose recent credits include The Hypocrites’ YOU ON THE MOORS NOW. Other Chicago credits include:  THE HAIRY APE (Oracle Productions – Jeff Award for Artistic Specialization – Choreography and Jeff Award Nominee for Best Ensemble), THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS (Raven Theatre – Jeff Award for Best Ensemble and Broadway World Nomination for Best Actor), JOHANNA FAUSTUS and ALL OUR TRAGIC (The Hypocrites – Jeff Award for Best Ensemble);  XTIGONE (Chicago Danztheater Ensemble), WAR SONG (The Plagiarists), and SUPERMAN 2050 (Theater Unspeakable). A Detroit native and graduate of Miami of Ohio University, Arzell’s talents have allowed him to perform in London, Wales, Denmark, Singapore, and all across Italy, Germany, and the U.S.

Naïma Hebrail Kidjo’s theatrical credits include: A Big, Big Knowing (Jackalope), Milkwhite (The Kinematics), The Whole World is Watching (Dog and Pony), Solo Crowd performances (Chicago), How To Be Alone! (Dixon Place, New York City), The Tempest (Yale University), and Dracula (Williamstown Theatre Festival). A Franco-Beninese actress who grew up in France and Brooklyn, Kidjo received a BA in Theatre Studies from Yale University.

Osiris Khepera fancies himself a Renaissance Artist: Actor, Poet, Playwright, Painter, & Singer. Recent works include: Bars & Measures (PROP THTR – BTAA Best Actor Nomination); This Great Nation and Much Enduring (Chicago Slamworks); R.E.A.C.H, (Second City); The American Revolution (Theater Unspeakable and Lincoln Center); The Fagtionary, (MPAACT); The Tennesee Williams Project, (Hypocrites); Harry & The Thief (Pavement Group); and A Few Good Men (Peninsula Players).

GARY HOUSTON (Falcon) was last onstage in Nina Raine’s Tribes (Fusion Theatre in Albuquerque) and, in Chicago, Henry H. Perritt Jr.’s Airline Miles (Second Stage), It’s a Wonderful Life (American Blues), Mauritius (Northlight) and Uncle Vanya (TUTA). Other credits include Nelson Algren in Nelson & Simone (Live Bait), George Pullman in American Enterprise (Organic), Prospero in The Tempest (European Repertory), William Blake in Blake and Ring Lardner in Damon, Ring and F. Scott (Writers’ Theatre), Benjamin Pitman in Unchanging Love (The Artistic Home), Crofts in Mrs. Warren’s Profession (BoarsHead),  Claudius in Hamlet (The Shakespeare Project), Buckingham in Richard III (Oak Park Festival), Lindner in A Raisin in the Sun (Goodman), the Brewmaster in Free Advice from Prague (Northlight) and Petrov in Berlin ’45 (Victory Gardens).

Andrew Malone recently
appeared in How to Succeed in Business Without Really
Trying (Marriott), Dreamgirls (Porchlight), and Raven Theatre’s Jeff Award winning,
Direct From Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys where he won BroadwayWorld’s Best Actor Award. Other credits include and not limited to: Hairspray, Little Shop of Horrors, and Spelling Bee. Andrew, is also a proud graduate of AMDA-NY. Anger, we say, is like the blade of a sword. very difficult to hold for long without harming oneself. -Charles Johnson

Darren Jones is celebrating his 25th theater season, which includes more than 60 stage plays, videos, film, and commercial projects. His recent stage credits include: What I Learned in Paris (Congo Square Theatre), and Repairing A Nation (eta Creative Arts Foundation). Other credits include Katrina: Mother-In-Law Of ‘Em All (!nterrobang Theatre); Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine (Pulse Theatre Company); The Alton School Cases of 1867 (DePaul Theater School); If Scrooge was a Brother (eta Creative Arts); The Whaleship Essex and Mill Fire (Shattered Globe Theater); King Hedley II; (Congo Square Theater); and Quark and Warm on the Cooling Board (MPAACT). Film and television credits include Chi-Raq, HOOD, No Chaser, Mo’ Money, Chicago PD (NBC). Darren is an Artistic Associate with Shattered Globe Theatre Company and is represented by Lily’s Talent Agency, Chicago.

Ron Quade previously worked with Pegasus having appeared in HEAT WAVE, BLACK CAESAR and two others. He has acted at many Chicago theaters including four shows at Chicago Dramatists, and seventeen shows at Raven Theatre. Ron is an associate artist at Chicago Dramatists.

Nelson Rodriguez is Artistic Director of Pride Films and Plays where he appeared in The Children’s Hour,
Some Men, The Boys Upstairs, and Men on the Verge of a His-Panic
for which he earned a 2016 Joseph Jefferson Award nomination in Solo Performance. Additional Chicago credits include The Compass (Steppenwolf for Young Audiences); Graveyard of Empires (16th Street Theatre); and work with Chicago Dramatists, Signal Ensemble Theatre, UrbanTheatre Company, and Adventure Stage Chicago where he is an Associate Artist. On camera, he has appeared in Easy Abby, Dudes and The Dreamers and stars in the upcoming SAG feature film En Algun Lugar. He is a recipient of Windy City Times’ “30 Under 30 Award” which recognizes the best of Chicago’s LGBTQQIA+ youth community. He is a member of The Alliance of Latinx Theatre Artists’ (ALTA) playwrights circle El Semillero. Mr. Rodriguez is represented by Gray Talent Group.

Tiffany Renee Johnson’s favorite theatre credits are RACE (Next Act Theatre); Hairspray (Drury Lane); The Nativity (Congo Square Theatre); The Story of Wilma Rudolph (Historical Perspectives for Children); The Bluest Eye and The Sirens (Environmental Theatre Space.) TV/film credits include Chicago PD, Chicago Fire & Dhoom 3. She is a Chicago native who received a Theatre Arts BFA from Howard University. Tiffany is represented by Gray Talent Group.

Heather Chrisler has been a part of the development of this new, exciting play for nearly a year. As a Chicago based actor she was most recently seen as Natalie in the world premiere of GOOD FRIDAY at Oracle. Chrisler has worked on productions at Stage Left Theatre, Remy Bumppo, First Folio, and Muse of Fire Theatre Collective among others. Regionally Chrisler has appeared in productions at Riverside Theatre in Iowa City, Door Shakespeare in Wisconsin, The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, The Monomoy Theatre on Cape Cod, and Portland Center Stage in Oregon. Chrisler holds a Masters of Fine Arts from Ohio University. Her most prominent work in film/television is as Tawny Darrens on Chicago PD on NBC. She is appearing under the representation of Shirley Hamilton, Inc.

David Fehr has worked in Chicago with Remy Bumppo, Continuum, The Mammals, Halcyon and others.  A few of his recent favorite parts include Treplev in The Nina Variations, Bastard in King John (Linchpin), and Agamemnon in Iphigenology (Neapolitians).  He obtained his MFA from the University of Missouri, Kansas City and is the Co-Artistic Director of Linchpin Theatre.