Of Equal Measure
Kirk Douglas Theatre
Tanya Barfield’s ambitious period piece bites off a bit more than the production or audience can chew. The racial discrimination theme is a strong enough underpinning, but added to the mix is sexual discrimination, job-for-sex dilemmas, sibling loyalty, political fealty, women’s suffrage, growing international imperialism and the general fate of the free world.
Michole Briana White nobly leads the cast as Jade Kingston, a black secretary in Woodrow Wilson’s White House circa 1914 to 1917. She is offered a promotion, with slightly closer access to the President. Along the way, she is challenged by her boss (Michael T. Weiss) to perform extracurricular favors in order to help her brother Eugene (Christoper O’neal Warren) keep a job. She is challenged by her cousin journalist (Joseph C. Phillips, often in the best scenes) to aid the plight of the downtrodden black community by ‘observing’ activities in the White House. Also challenged are the President’s aide de camp (the excellent JD Cullum), who suffers improbable physical abuse by a thuggishly intellectual tormentor seeking to ascertain allegiance to the State. There are myriad lynchings argued onstage.
Other challenges are presented, which keeps the cast moving about the well-appointed stage and which keep the audience attuned to the swaying power shifts. But soon the intrigues become too thick, at the expense of what could have been a deeper exploration of Jade’s role at the White House and its effect on the wider black community. Lawrence Pressman presents a credible President Wilson, who starts out with the nobility and promise of establishing greater equality for the races, classes and perhaps sexes. But the grinding role of political expediency crushes those aims, and the international threat of a looming war in Europe diverts political capital.
The set design by Richard Hoover and Sibyl Wickersheimer moves smoothly and believably between the Oval Office, Jade’s apartment, a restaurant, a movie theatre and a few other locales. Projections by Jason H. Thompson add an intriguing dimension.
With a few trims of plot wrinkles, the broader theme of racial and sexual discrimination might have been more powerfully explored.
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