Writing about horrific events in our nation’s past is always a difficult endeavor—how to make a show interesting, relevant and poignant without becoming overly didactic or resorting to finger-pointing. With “The Gospel According to James, ” playwright Charles Smith deftly addresses the events surrounding a double-lynching in 1930s small-town Indiana with compassion and candor. Meeting in a funeral home fifty years after the lynching, two central figures involved in the event (portrayed by Andre De Shields and Linda Kimbrough) discuss their recollections of that night and the emotional baggage that comes with such a traumatic experience. The acting is impeccable, with De Shields and Kimbrough recounting their (conflicting) memories and the remaining cast portraying these memories for the audience. It’s a thought-provoking and memorable piece with a captivating story, but the presence of narrators (who quickly become silent viewers in the center of a crowded stage) is a distracting choice by director Chuck Smith. (Zach Freeman)
Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 North Lincoln, (773)871-3000. $20-$50. Through June 12.