Thursday, May 4, 2017

Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington by Clare Coss

Melanie Cruz and Ben Guillory - Photo Matthew Leland

By Joe Straw

The Robey Theatre Company, in association with the Los Angeles Theatre Company, presents the west coast premiere of Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington by Clare Coss and Directed by Ben Guillory.

Walking into the theatre, the first thing you notice is Thomas Meleck’s beautiful set design.  Golden lamp fixtures and art deco lights drip esthetically from the ceiling, the transom window, in the portal, pours lights onto the antique hardwood flooring, a silent gramophone sits high on a cabinet, wooden desks, a manual typewriter, pneumatic tubes that transmit capsules of exigent letters, and all of the other small touches that breathes life into this time and a place.  

The windows have wooden blinds; when opened, they look out into another downtown office building. This is a fitting office for the The Crisis, N.A.A.C.P’s official magazine, located on the lower 5th Avenue in New York City.  

But, at first glance, there is something peculiar about this office space, one side being cramped and slightly disheveled, the other side spacious and immaculate.

The spectator seats have been arranged to minimize the acting space into a small focused and compact view - sharing two rooms - for which the audience and office space become intimately involved.

On this fine morning, Miss Ovington (Melanie Cruz) makes her way into the office, turns on the lights, pulls the sprightly shades to allow an opening for ideas, sorts’ mail, and begins to type letters to individuals that mostly antagonize her.  She types with a purpose, and quickly, the typewriters keys stick and ultimately she decides that she might not want to send the letter.  She crumples it and tosses it in the trash.

There is one thing Miss Ovington knows she must do on this quiet office day.  But for now she is slightly distracted by a news items and takes a red pin and places it on the map.  As she sticks it in, we notice the map is littered with red pins; what offensives of human nature these pins represent will be revealed later.

The moon pulls and the tides shift causing an emotional response, the reasons why Miss Ovington must be in the N.A.A.C.P office, on this day.

Ben Guillory

Dr. Du Bois (Ben Guillory) steps into the office proudly, wearing a white seersucker suit, red bow tie, grey vest with a pocket watch and a gold chain.  His floriferous attire is his vestment of success.  He comes in somber as he stares at Miss Ovington.

“Why are you here on Sunday?” – Dr. Du Bois

“To save the N.A.A.C. P.” – Miss Ovington

Interesting that Miss Ovington should say that when there is possibly more at stake here considering circumstances that they are both familiar with. 

Dr. Du Boise, in his willful renunciation, wants to resign and plans to revise his letter of resignation.  This would be his fourth attempt at resigning. Miss Ovington will have none of that talk; she expressively forbids it because she “values the word of every human being.” 

Spoken like a true Unitarian.

“The association can’t exist without you.” – Miss Ovington

The day is warm and Miss Ovington suggests Dr. Du Boise remove his jacket. He politely demurs holding on what makes him feel fine feathered and important.    The focus shifts to a protest in the street outside. Miss Ovington, in a show of solidarity, grabs the flag, and places it in the holder, while Dr. Du Boise steps behind her and holds her by the waist.

“A man was lynched yesterday.” – Miss Ovington

This reveals the reason for the red pins as they walk to the map and stare at hundreds of pins placed intermittently along a large swath of the United States.  They react internally and for a long moment.  

Dr. Du Boise moves into his cluttered office and leaves the door open for Miss Ovington.  She thinks about it for a moment and then clutches the ledge of the interior casing of the window.  She holds herself back for fear of someone’s righteous innuendo. 

Melanie Cruz

Her wait is a stunning picture.  She stands alone protected by the soft stratum of her neck covering, held tightly in the caring layer of her blue vested garment, and covering of a matching blue skirt that floats below her ankles.  Her hand suggests a proprietary event, and yet it is only a piece of jewelry on her middle finger. 

Still, Miss Ovington waits, hanging on his every word, hoping for something more, unwilling to give in to the thought of entering his room.

Du Boise starts his gramophone, listening to the Fisk Jubilee Singers, something to relax him, and possibly her.  

This is a play by Clare Coss where one wants to focus on the love first, and to then admire the words as an afterthought.  Watching you almost forget; the color barrier of the time, the wall of black and white separation, and let two human being live their life.  Still, there’s much to be done, issues to discuss, and lessons to be learned. One kept thinking that someone has to win with some kind of emotional catharsis that carries the play, but I didn’t see it and maybe it was not that type of play. Still, on the subject of love and objectives, someone has to win the game, the cat and mouse game, or perhaps a chess game, where a winner emerges.  

Ben Guillory is outstanding as Dr. Du Bois, his second outing as this character since Knock Me a Kiss by Charles Smith. This Du Bois was much richer, the voice smoother and closer to recordings I’ve heard of Dr. Du Bois. The character Du Bois has an unconquerable obstinacy and is adamant about what he wants.  And, he will not give an inch in an effort to pursue his position in the N.A.A.C.P. But despite his unpleasant reflection with his righteous counterparts of the organization, he manages to keep his cool with Miss Ovington, notwithstanding their disagreements. Movement needs to be made for the cause of love and work must be set aside for injustices that must be made right. Also, Guillory needs to figure out how to play spoons to make that scene work. (smile)  

Melanie Cruz is equally excellent as the ubiquitous Miss Ovington giving us a woman who is more than a match for any man, and on any playing field.  Waiting outside the office struck a solid core, a truth that lifts one right out of their seat.  Miss Ovington knows what she has to do to keep Dr. Du Bois from resigning and she must go after it because there is only so much time left in their encounter.

Ben Guillory’s staging is excellent. But it may be helpful to have an extra pair of eyes to see if the moments gel.  At times, both actors were briefly center stage caught up in the moment working out their relationship without moving emotionally or physically in one direction or another. Barbs were thrown in Miss Ovington’s direction with hardly an infraction being recognized.  When one is hurt as part of the love game, one must come back energized to fight one more round.  In the end, and after their stormy vicissitudes, we are concerned for the characters, and we wonder if their eventual solitary destinies were the right course of action.

The wonderful Costume Design by Naila A. Sanders highlights the rules of the game, one of a social order that limits expressions of love, simply by the confining nature of the clothing where the physical emotions are held in check.

Run! Run! And take a Unitarian Universalist with you.  I did and it made all the difference.

Other members of this wonderful crew are as follows:

JC Cadena – Associate Producer
Antonieta Castillo Carpio – Production Stage Manager
Michaél David Ricks – Lighting Design
Ivan Robles – Sound Design
Jasmine-Joy Singleton – Properties Designer
Jason Mimms – Graphic Design
Chris Carnell – Web Master
Justin Sloggatt – Film Design Supervisor
Art Chang – Film Design
Michael Blaze – Photographer
Philip Sokoloff – Publicist
Douglas Allen – Video Archives

The Robey Theatre Company
514 South Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA  90013

Tickets:  866-811-4111

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