Review Archive/October 2013
Updated October 1, 2013
KNOCK ME A KISS; W.E.B. DuBois
By Jay Whipple/Trend Magazine Online™
There was a lot of buzz about this play during the 2011 National Black Theatre Festival (NBTF) in Winston-Salem, NC. In fact, the word on the street was that it was sold out. When I first heard the title of this play, I really did not know what to anticipate in terms of content and plot, other than it sounded as though someone was blowing a kiss to someone else. Fortunately, they brought this 2011 sleeper back for an encore performance. This time – I thought – let me see what all the hoopla was about surrounding this play with an intriguing moniker/name. After reading the overview in the program that I was privileged to receive early at the 2nd NBTF press conference in June; I was sold on checking it out solely because it involved Dr. William Edward Burghardt DuBois (1868 – 1963), better known as W.E.B. DuBois. This well-educated, well-spoken, high-society, and some say sadity Black hero – from my childhood – is also featured in our Charlotte Pilgrimage Tour video during a visit to the campus of Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC.
I was like a kid in a candy store when I opened the small manila envelope containing my show tickets, and there it was; my one ticket to the 3 PM performance on Wednesday July 31, 2013. Yippee – I yelled inwardly – now I can see first-hand what all the buzz was about surrounding this play with the intriguing title. This hit play is produced by Mr. Woodie King Jr.’s New Federal Theatre which is located in Manhattan/New York, NY. It is written by Mr. Charles Smith who is a member of the acclaimed Playwrights Ensemble at the Tony-winning Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago, IL. The director is Mr. Chuck Smith and the talented cast is lead again by Tony-nominated Emmy winner – and Baltimore native – Mr. Andre De Shields. The plot of this play was derived from the actual 1928 wedding of poet Countee Cullen (1903 – 1946) to Ms. Yolande Du Bois (1900 – 1961); the only daughter of W.E.B. DuBois. Their nuptials were the talk of Harlem, NY, and Black America because of the couple’s prominent status coupled with the fact that Mr. Cullen was indeed gay. Based on the play, apparently everyone knew that except Yolande, her friend Lenora, and father W.E.B. DuBois.
I arrived at the Gerald Freedman Theatre on the campus of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts #1 in Winston-Salem, NC, at about 2:15 PM, and after driving around a bit to figure out how the heck to get there with all the construction going on on campus. They opened the theatre doors at precisely 2:30 PM to a line that was gradually increasing. The volunteer ushers were very friendly and cordial as we filed into the theatre for our general admission seating. I sat near the front and to the stage left entrance. Sitting one row behind me were two nice ladies from the M Ensemble Theatre Company of Miami, FL; ironically my hometown. The older I get the more I realize that it is indeed a very small world. Ms. Pat Williams and Ms. Shirley Richardson were nice enough to share their contact information with me and I am in the process of hopefully interviewing them for an upcoming edition of Trend Magazine Online.
The show began promptly at 3 PM (yea!) and the actors entered near us from left of center stage. The set included a partial living room with a small bench in the center, a wooden office desk with a chair behind and in front of it, a small dining table with two chairs, a fireplace with flowers and a vase on the top, wall pictures, candle holders on the mantel, a bookcase with books; two African masks on the wall, a walking cane behind the desk, and more wall pictures behind the desk and above the fireplace. The play gets started with the “N” word behind dropped repetitively. The acting was a bit shaky at first (Probably nerves) but gelled as time passed. Yolande (Erin Cherry), age 26 and living in Baltimore, MD, and Jimmy Lunceford (Morocco Omari), her gentleman caller, are the first two on stage. They are just back from a date and he sets the stage as a very aggressive young man who does not beat around the bush. Jimmy/Morocco leaves and Nina DuBois (Marie Thomas) enters and performs very fluidly with Yolande/Erin. They both exit and next to enter the set is W.E.B. DuBois (Andre’ De Shields) and Countee Cullen (Sean Phillips) with great (Sometimes humorous) theatrical exchanges centered around how to find a good woman/wife. Now enters Yolande and then her mother Nina for a brief and funny exchange centered on dating and ending with Countee asking Yolande out on a date after she drops a direct hint.
The next scene is between Yolande and her street savvy girlfriend Lenora (Gillian Glasco) who reminded me of the Jackée character from the hit sitcom 227 (1985 – 1990) starring Marla Gibbs. The two ladies engage in typical girl talk just like us guys do when you ladies are not around. Smile! Right now, someone’s cell phone goes off and I can just feel that person easing down in their seats while everyone turns towards them with a look like – WTF! I actually thought that it was part of the show. Countee then enters for his date with Yolande bearing fresh flowers. After their date they return on stage with a very touching and emotional exchange involving her mother’s (Nina) mental illness. He then discloses to Yolande that he was adopted. The next scene involves Yolande and her mother (Nina) which brings to fruition the extent of her mother’s mental illness in that she is convinced that her son (Burghardt, 1898 - 1899) was sacrificed by her husband (W.E.B. DuBois) although he died from a disease. Next is an exploratory exchange between Jimmy and Lenora before Yolande enters the set. He continues to drop the “N” word when referring to Countee and goes for the gusto by point blank letting Yolande know that he wanted sex. He then proposes and she refuses the ring and proposition. Next up is DuBois and Countee in a scene where marriage is discussed. Yolande enters, Dubois exits, Countee pops the question, and she is slow to answer. DuBois re-enters, Countee exits, and he is a bit perturbed at his daughter's -- Yolande’s -- apparent apathy. Countee re-enters and is joined by Nina and Lenora. Jimmy then knocks on the door and all hell breaks loose as he has met Countee for the first time. This high-energy and scary scene ends with Yolande saying yes to Countee and Jimmy leaving with his ego and heart being handed to him in the most shameful and degrading manner. It was now intermission time at approximately 4:10 PM.
The first two back on stage were Yolande and her mother Nina who stumbled a bit with their lines before getting back into a gelling mode. They were engaged in post-wedding chatter when the subject of sex came up in a most uncomfortable and bizarre manner as Nina referred to it as part of her duties as a wife. Next up was a scene between Countee and DuBois engage in their very own post- wedding chatter. DuBois is concerned about the media with Countee planning to head off to Paris without his new bride – and he is clueless as to the real reason. He thinks that it has something to do with finances and is still in the dark when Countee refuses his offer for a loan. The next scene is between Yolande and her good friend Lenora who discloses that Jimmy still cares for her. She also drops a very strong hint about what she would do with Jimmy and raises the question of Countee’s true sexual orientation. Lenora leaves and Countee enters. There were a few stumbles by Ms. Cherry/Yolande during this dialog of full disclosure by Countee that he is indeed gay and dating a guy name Harold who is plans to jet off to Paris with instead of her. Yikes! They both exit the stage.
Lenora and Jimmy are now on stage and practicing the song “Knock me a kiss,” (1941) performed by Mr. Louis Thomas Jordan (1908 - 1975). Ah ha – I thought – the mystery of the intriguing title has been solved. Yolande enters, Lenora exits, and surprisingly she wants Jimmy back. He turns her down flat. Lenora enters, Jimmy exits, and Yolande learns that they are now more than just friends – they are living together. Next, the most shocking scene of this play occurred when Yolande propositioned Lenora. Huh – I thought. I surely did not see that coming! Yolande was once again turned down flat and I could not help but to reflect back on the earlier scene when she turned down Jimmy flat in front of everybody. How does the saying go, “What goes around comes around.” Lenora then exits and Nina returns for a very sad scene that entails Yolande having to lie to her mother about losing a child that she never had. Nina then exits the stage and Countee enters and there were some very humorous exchanges that ensued that involved Yolande trying to jump Countee’s bones right on stage. I guess she thought that she could hump him back into being straight. Smile! DuBois now enters and thinks that the newlyweds are having sexual issues, so he asks Countee to leave. The next scene involving his daughter was quite humorous as dad is finally told that his new Son-In-Law is gay. DuBois then asks Yolande to sign a letter -- to some of his high-society friends -- affirming their happy marriage, as if he was still in denial of that reality. Needless to say, she does not sign the letter and Countee re-enters while DuBois exits. She then asks for a divorce and for Countee to leave. Nina re-enters the stage and once again begins to ramble about much of nothing and is still clueless of all that has recently happened in her daughter’s life. The play ended at approximately 5:45 PM.
They say that “Truth is stranger than fiction;” If all of the events in this brilliant play are indeed true, then that saying fits this bill to the tee. Outside of a few stumbles by Ms. Cherry (Yolande), Ms. Thomas (Nina DuBois), and Mr. Morocco (Jimmy Lunceford), this play was well produced, written, directed, and acted. It was quite evident to me now and during the performance that these guys were true pros at theatre production and if you get a chance to go; it is well worth the price of admission to go see KNOCK ME A KISS.
This play was produced by the New Federal Theatre of NYC. Find them in CBP's Black Pages Worldwide™
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