Ward’s award-winning satirical myth, a success when it premiered in 1965, imagines what occurs in a Southern city when the entire African American citizens mysteriously disappear. A co-founder of the Negro Ensemble Corporate, Ward conceived the play as a “opposite minstrel display” wherein African American actors in whiteface would painting the white townspeople, who’re outraged and befuddled through the lack of the employees they’d exploited.
Within the Theater Alliance manufacturing, administrators Raymond O. Caldwell and Angelisa Gillyard audaciously clutch on Ward’s thought to place “Day of Absence” throughout the conventional construction of a minstrel display. Beginning within the early 19th century, minstrel presentations — which trafficked in stereotypes that demeaned and lampooned African American citizens — have been an tremendously in style type of American leisure. Continuously carried out through white artists in blackface (although black artists additionally engaged within the style), minstrel presentations generally featured
an “olio,” or variety-act phase, and a playlet “afterpiece,” in addition to a lot tune.
Recalling and subverting the painful custom of minstrelsy, Caldwell (Theater Alliance’s generating creative director) and Gillyard have grew to become Ward’s one-act into an afterpiece, previous it with tune and diversity acts that no longer handiest contemplate the legacy of racism but additionally power theatergoers to inspect their very own biases. A magic trick comes to a repurposed hand-picked-cotton crate. A recreation display asks questions on African American historical past, promising 40 acres and a mule because the prize. Clowns in a tug of conflict to find their rope morphing right into a noose.
On a technical degree, the magic methods and tune (together with a rendition of “Raise Each Voice and Sing”) are underwhelming, however the clowning is serviceable, and Jared Shamberger delivers a poignant if wispy monologue about dispossession. (The actors researched and wrote their olio scripts.) All in all, the adapted-minstrel-show layout reinforces the topics of Ward’s play, including a sobering reminder about bigotry in The us.
It’s within the supply of Ward’s play that the issue arises. The manufacturing’s all-black solid plays this phase in whiteface, using ultrastylized buffoonish motion and diction that emphasize the characters’ stupidity and cravenness, with a nod to the dehumanizing stereotypes of minstrelsy. The method accords with Ward’s intent, however the shtick by no means varies in stage or timbre, turning into extraordinarily monotonous. Incorporating nuance don’t have undermined the message.
On a favorable be aware, Shamberger and Dylan Fleming are reasonably humorous as a mayor and a dimwitted lazybones named Luke, respectively. The display’s visuals — together with a intentionally stagey-looking small-town set, the historical minstrel display posters adorning the theater,
the arch unfashionable costumes — give a contribution to the provocative voltage. (Jonathan Dahm Robertson is the scenic dressmaker; Jeannette Christensen devised the costumes.)
The display is billed as the primary skilled manufacturing of Ward’s play in Washington. It arrives at an opportune time: A brand new crew of African American dramatists has been invigorating the theater scene with intrepid, leading edge performs that discover race whilst
intentionally vaporizing target audience convenience zones. Ward’s drama is a precursor to this bracing development.
Day of Absence, through Douglas Turner Ward. Directed through Raymond O. Caldwell and Angelisa Gillyard; assistant director, Douglas Robinson; tune director, Iyona Blake; lights design, Alberto Segarra; sound, Kevin Alexander; props, Amy Kellett. With Damondre Inexperienced, Kaisheem Fowler Bryant, Jonathan Del Palmer, Nia Savoy and others. 100 mins. $25-$40. Thru Nov. three on the Anacostia Playhouse, 2020 Shannon Pl. SE. 202-241-2539. theateralliance.com.