Tony Mastroianni Review Collection
"In White America" Is Vital, Moving
Cleveland Press February 23, 1966
All of the people who performed in Karamu's production of "In White America" last night are listed above, not just those who were outstanding. For without exception everyone connected with this presentation gave an inspired performance.
Martin Duberman's "In White America" is a dramatic account of the history of the Negro in America. It has been culled from speeches, newspapers, magazines, letters, diaries, songs and memoirs.
It has been put together in such a way as to offer contrasts in viewpoint as well as in mood. It has dramatic variety, moments of passion, bits of humor. All of this is bridged with a minimum of narration. Often a song or just a snatch of one serves to round out a scene or provide an introduction to another.
IT BEGINS WITH a description of the slave trade, ends with an incident in Little Rock. In between are the words of lawmakers and law breakers, the picture of slaves revolting long before the Civil War, or slaves with bitter memories and of some with pleasant recollections.
Isaiah D. Ruffin accompanies the songs on the guitar. The six actors take dozens of parts, slipping easily and skillfully from one characterization to another.
We have the almost pacifist attitude of Booker T. Washington up against the militant W.E.B. DuBois and then a little later the downright silliness of Father Divine.
AT ONE POINT there is testimony from a hearing on the Ku Klux Klan. The date is 1872, not 1966, but some of the words are the same.
The slavery before the Civil War is contrasted with the Georgia peon farm many years later but not many ways different.
Andrew Johnson, Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson are the presidents who speak and each holds a surprise. From the Congressional Record comes an amazing and frightening speech by Sen. Tillman defending lynching. This (by Harold Taylor) and Lois McGuire as a 15-year-old girl in Little Rock are dramatic high points in the evening.
Director Reuben Silver has staged this production in the Arena Theater and he makes full and thorough use of the playing area.
Steps and ramps and lights are fully utilized with a cast that moves as well as it speaks. The result is more than a staged reading, but a vital, moving piece of theater.