Tonight at 9 p.m. may be your last chance to see it. 

The playwright Zayd Dohrn
The playwright Zayd Dohrn

THEATRE Tonight, American Theater Company (ATC), a stalwart off-Loop house in North Center, will present part one of its ambitious Silver Project, a series of plays that attempts, one year at a time, to chronicle the 25 years since the theatre company was founded.

If you go tonight, you can catch a quirky gem titled ‘cause I know you got soul. Although the Obamas are not named, anyone who read the post-election coverage about the First Couple may recognize the play’s setup: Two young African-American lawyers, out on a date, are eating ice cream and discussing the movie they just saw, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.

The play gets a little extra juice when you learn that the playwright, Zayd Dohrn, is the 33-year-old son of Bernardine Dohrn and William Ayers, the Vietnam-era radicals and members of a revolutionary group called the Weather Underground. Ayers reappeared in the news during the 2008 presidential campaign when his acquaintance with Obama, a fellow Hyde Park resident, became a flash point for the opposition; most memorably, Ayers was the subject of Sarah Palin’s jibe that Obama was “palling around with terrorists.”

Dohrn says that his dad’s “quasi-celebrity craziness” had nothing to do with him writing this play: Once he agreed to participate in the project, ATC simply assigned him the year 1989, and off he went. And, as he points out, the Obamas’ first date was hardly the most momentous occurrence in a year that included the fall of the Berlin Wall, the inauguration of George H. W. Bush, the Soviets leaving Afghanistan, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Tiananmen Square massacre, the debut of Seinfeld and The Simpsons, and the banning of Pete Rose from baseball.

Huge events aside, Dohrn says that for some reason the lyrics from the song “Fight the Power” by the hip-hop group Public Enemy, released in 1989 as a single and on the movie soundtrack for Do the Right Thing, got stuck in his head, as did the random fact that Barack and Michelle Obama went on their first date that year. “It seemed like a good way to not bite off more than I could chew with the whole Zeitgeist-of-the-decade thing,” Dohrn says.

The play itself is a short, sweet dramatization of what Barack and Michelle might have talked about on that now canonized interlude at a Baskin-Robbins. And, although no one’s going to start a race riot after seeing this play, you do get to watch some delicious moments. Right out of the blocks, the woman character says, “Hey– Your mama’s white, right?” “So,” comes the retort. “So how come you don’t date white girls?” “Who says I don’t?”

Dohrn says the play is really about a couple of people just starting their adult lives—on their way to becoming icons. “To me, nothing could be more tedious than a play about Barack Obama,” he says. Dohrn, who lives in New York, hasn’t seen the show and won’t be there tonight; nor does he think his parents will see it. “They know that I have a play in Chicago,” he says. “I don’t think they know exactly what it is.”

This is tonight’s lineup of plays, which includes the years 1985 through 1989:

  • For Roy by Nambi Kelley, directed by Hallie Gordon
  • Mission Burrito by Rolin Jones, directed by Anthony Moseley
  • The Science of Happiness by Naomi Iizuka, directed by Lisa Portes
  • The Third Date by Justin D.M. Palmer, directed by Megan Shuchman
  • Kazuo’s Dick by David Henry Hwang, directed by David Charles Goyette
  • ‘Cause I Know You Got Soul by Zayd Dohrn, directed by Jaime Castenada
GO: Jun 16. Free. American Theater Company, 1909 W Byron, 773-409-4125.

  • "First Lady in Waiting": Chicago magazine’s October 2004 profile of Michelle Obama.
  • What Bill Ayers Wants: Chicago magazine’s April 2009 feature profile of Bill Ayers.


Photograph: Courtesy Zayd Dohrn