Color Bind

Two new plays explore race relations

We know there will be tension between Paul's mother and Alice, but we see it over and over again in a series of labored exchanges having to do with Alice's inability to be a housewife and Matilda's conviction that a woman's place is at the stove or the iron. Worse, Alice seems to become a suffragist without once referring to fellow writers and protesters of the day. It's almost as if the Dunbars exist in a vacuum, circling one another with the same stale complaints.

Cherita Armstrong, Eric Conners and Marjorie Johnson (standing) in Oak and Ivy.
Maurice Meredith
Cherita Armstrong, Eric Conners and Marjorie Johnson (standing) in Oak and Ivy.

Director Ron Himes has done some snappy staging with, Lord help us, 34 separate scenes (played on a two-level set). His top-flight cast includes Eric J. Conners as a splendid Dunbar -- just right as one part rake and one part oblivious mama's boy. His transformation from serious poet to darkie bard, when he recites the chilling and lapidary "We Wear the Mask" to a train porter (a scene that could end the show beautifully) is simply astonishing. Conners' entire body contorts and his voice flexes, and his grin is mechanically apt. As Alice, Cherita Armstrong plays exasperation and coyness well, and she's thoroughly believable as the distracted poet forced into societally sanctioned female subservience. Marjorie Johnson's Matilda has a steely presence, even while she's coddling her son, and one wishes the flashback sequences, in which she recollects being shamed by her white mistress, added more to the storyline. Marsha Cann, as loyal friend Fanny, brightens her scenes, and supporting cast members J. Samuel Davis, Christopher Hickey, Monica Parks Simon and Christine Anthony are all fine. Despite my caveats about the script, it's clear that playwright McGhee-Anderson has an excellent and moving play in progress about a unique confluence of American social and literary history.

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