Constituent Spotlight: Monique Cafe
Actor makes Chicago Southland her stage
The magic of theater has the power to uplift the spirit of a community.
Monique Cafe brought that magic and power to Chicago’s south suburbs when she founded a small African American theater group called Theatre of Color.
Cafe’s most recent production, “Sunday on the Rocks” by Theresa Redbeck, completed its run in late October at the Illinois Theatre Center in Park Forest. The play was cast using local talent, with Shauntell Ferguson of Park Forest playing the lead role of Elly.
“It went wonderfully, and it was a big success,” said Cafe, a professional actor. “We attracted people from entire Southland—Lemont, Joliet, Chicago, Indiana. We had a pretty wide-range audience.”
Cafe said her core audience is women, so she tries to stage plays that would appeal to them.
“ ‘Sunday on the Rocks’ is about four female friends with different backgrounds and moral beliefs. When they get together to have Scotch for breakfast one Sunday morning, their different opinions cause conflict and end up changing their lives. I thought women could see themselves and their girlfriends in the characters and totally relate to the issues and problems.”
This was the first play Cafe has presented at the Illinois Theatre Center, whose stage has been silent since the death of its founder Etel Billig last year. Previously, Theatre of Color productions were staged at Freedom Hall in Park Forest. Her company’s past plays include “Fast Girls,” “Sty of the Blind Pig,” “Strange Relationships,” and “Spike Heels.” She has also staged a children’s show titled “Make a Wish,” and a popular thriller, “Fit to Kill.”
“My goal is to eventually put on original work and be a full-fledged theater company that produces four shows a year and works exclusively out of the ITC,” said Cafe, a resident of Matteson.
Park Forest Manager Tom Mick said the community welcomes Cafe’s artistic vision.
“Park Forest really cherishes the fact that we have such fine live theater in our downtown. Having performing arts in our community is something that makes our community much better off in the long-term,” Mick said.
The theater company is a family affair. Cafe’s husband Charles Gary directs all of the shows. Family members serve as ticket-takers, stage crew, and house managers.
Cafe and her husband met 20 years ago at an audition for “Prelude to a Kiss.”
“I was a professional actress doing community theater to keep fresh. Charles had been a theater major in college. I had a business plan for a theater company even before I met him. We struck up a relationship, I showed him the plan, and it turned out that we had the same dream.”
The two fell in love and poured their love into the theater.
“From the first time I stepped on stage, that’s all I wanted to do. I loved the rush of live shows. Throughout my career as an actress, I realized there were so few roles for African Americans. So I decided to create work for myself and other African American actors. I wanted to start my own theater company. It was important to be my own creative force.”
Cafe grew up in Harvey and is a graduate of Thornton High School. She credits her parents with inspiring her to pursue a career in the arts.
“My parents exposed us to a lot of culture and presented us with lots of options,” she said. “They would take us downtown to the theater. My mother put me in acting classes. When I was younger, I did a commercial and thought I’d pursue acting when I got older.”
Over the years, Cafe chalked up years of experience as a talented dancer and actress in many feature films and commercials.
Cafe said she was influenced by Diana Ross, Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Betty Davis and Ingrid Bergman.
“I was obsessed Diana Ross. “ ‘Lady Sings the Blues’ is my favorite movie ever. When I saw it, I said ‘Okay, I can do this.’ I loved Dorothy Dandridge in ‘Carmen Jones.’ I saw the movie and wanted to see how the play was put on. It was the first play I sought out to read on my own. I love all classic movies with Lena Horne, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. My husband and I call ourselves the Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee of modern day theater because Ossie Davis once had a theater company.”
Cafe said classic movies still inspire her today. And, of course, she and her husband will forever love the theater.
“We fly to New York City just to see plays. Years back, when I found out ‘Sunset Boulevard’ was playing, I bought tickets five months in advance. I said to my husband: ‘Here are our tickets—we need to get to New York City.”
For more information about the theatre group, visit www.theatreofcolor.com .
Sunday On The Rocks: (L to R) Sharhonda Roberts, Dana Adams & Shauntel Ferguson (on couch)