Theater: Dr. DuBois and Miss Ovington



Woodie King Jr’s New Federal Theatre and Castillo Theatre Present: Dr. DuBois and Miss Ovington

On a bright Sunday 16 February 2014  this mesmerizing play written by Clare Coss and directed by Gabrielle L. Kurlander, Dr. DuBois and Miss Ovington, transported the expectant audience to another Sunday  in Manhattan, ninety-nine years ago, 20 June 1915, when the infamous Birth of a Nation inspired lynchings and the year in which  Booker T. Washington died.

The latest snowfall obstructing the walk along much of  42nd Street did  keep a few from occupying seats for this sold out performance. And what a performance. Timothy Simonson captured the impassioned and the collegiate personality of W.E.B. DuBois, the voice we hear when his son at two and a half years,  dies and when he buries his wife and when he cries out with all his being against barbaric lynching. Kathleen Chalfant holds her own in a way which gives her title “Miss” equivalent weight with DuBois’ “Dr.” As Dan Friedman, Artistic Director of Castillo Theatre notes, Mary White Ovington was honored by the NAACP Board as “Mother of the New Emancipation.”

The modest description of the play could not prepare me for the impact and power of this magnificent work of art which left me with an urgent need for silence and deep reflection and with an equally urgent need for conversation.  I had not anticipated that the work would be so carefully researched and so creatively expressed. We recognized references to Josie from DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk. We sang with him and the Jubilee Singers, “I Been Buked and I Been Scorned”.  I was happy to see that approximately 20% of the audience under fifty, and some few even under thirty. Families and friends attended.

I wish that everybody could see this play.

The principle characters are first seen at audience level. After a number of slides showing scenes from 1915, the two characters move up to the stage, female audience left, male audience right. The faces of African American children pressed against a fence, watching white children at play on swings and seesaw, black children kept away from the swimming pool, those images provide a message not to be missed.

DuBois rejecting the vicious demand that he post the name of a black criminal each time he sites an innocent person brutally lynched has such a high contemporary resonance that it leaves one speechless.

Together with all the terror in the story, there is so much beauty.  The elegance in the costumes.  The beautiful set expanded through a window that overlooks a protesting crowd below. The mutual respect, the love, the  beautiful working relationship. Conversations include intimate questions born of genuine concerm, without invasive disrespect.  There is even room for humor which never compromises the celebration of two great historical figures of the NAACP.

The play, Dr. DuBois and Miss Ovington, graces Black history month, 2014.

Everyone must read W.E.B. DuBois’ Black Reconstruction. Our thanks to Clare Coss, playwright, Woodie King Jr’s New Federal Theatre and Castillo Theatre for this timely, well-crafted  work which reminds us that sacrifices made almost a hundred years ago, continue to positively affect our lives today.


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