The Column Online



Written by Beto O’Byrne and Developed with Meropi Peponides
Regional Premiere

Bishop Arts Theatre Center

Mildred Loving – Camille Monae
Richard Loving – D.R. Mann Hanson
Maya – Colby Calhoun

Director – Morgana Wilborn
Stage Manager – Destiney S. Higgins
Technical Director – Michael Cleveland
Assistant Tech Director – Safwan Choudhury
Costume Design – Amenta Rasa
Sound Engineer – Ric Jones

Reviewed Performance: 2/7/2020

Reviewed by Stacey Upton, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

“How would you explain being mixed?” is the first question posed by this moving and relevant play. The question is then answered via multi-media projection and sound recorded by several Dallas-area mixed-race people. This intentional design by the writers to incorporate local voices into the show wherever it is produced proves to be a profound choice, adding an additional layer of nuance and local storytelling to this excellent play. Other questions like this are posed throughout “Loving and Loving,” which moves seamlessly through history from 1957 to the present. The inclusion of local voices keeps us firmly based in the reality of today, as well as reminding us that what is past has shaped our present. This play was written at the end of the Obama presidency, and as the writers said in a talk-back after the production, at that point the play felt like a celebration of sorts. In the shadow of our current political arena, this play resonates more as a protest, that we need to gather up and treasure our social victories. It does what excellent theatre can do – makes the audience empathize with the characters and see the world from a different perspective, leaving us a little bit better, or at the very least more informed in the process.

You are most likely familiar with the story of the Lovings – a white man and a black woman who fell in love in the late 1950s and got married. Unfortunately, in the state of Virginia (and in many other states at that time) interracial marriage was banned. The Lovings are soon jailed after their marriage, and sentenced to serve a year in prison or to be exiled from the state for 25 years. Unable to thrive in exile up in Washington DC, yearning to return home, Mildred takes the step of writing for help to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and their case is eventually taken up by the ACLU, all the way to the Supreme Court, where “Loving vs. The State of Virginia” eventually is adjudicated, and a major victory is made in the fight for equal rights. I have to admit it was shocking to learn that miscegenation was treated as a crime equivalent to incest or marrying a child under the age of 12 before the Loving’s case was heard by the Supreme Court. Shocking to learn that laws prohibiting mixed-race marriage continued on the books of many states after the Supreme Court ruling prohibiting such laws was proclaimed in 1969. Horrifying to learn that Alabama was last state to finally wipe the law against it off their books -- in the year 2000.

This play is not all hard information, and has many funny and gentle moments. It is a pleasure to experience the 90-minute narrative. You come to intimately understand that the Lovings were simple country folk, who say many times that all they want is to live in peace with their children on the two acres gifted to them by Richard Loving’s father. A place where “all they have to do is holler and the folks will come runnin’.” “We’re just little folk,” says Mildred earnestly at one point. Putting this very human face on people who inadvertently were at the forefront of the fight for racial equality is something this play does very well. That it goes a step further and probes into what it means to be the child of a mixed-race couple elevates it even more. Some of the most poignant moments of the play are when one of the children of the Lovings, played with exquisite feeling by Colby Calhoun asks plaintively, “Am I yellow?” Am I a high-yellow negro? And if that’s not what I am, then what am I?” The focus then shifts to the present-day, and the challenges of being mixed-race are articulated by local men and women of our community. Powerful stuff.

The actors in this play are uniformly excellent, and capture our hearts. From the first quiet, unrushed beats taken by narrator Colby Calhoun, who is a mixed-race non-binary actor, as she began to probe the history of the story that was to unfold, we are in the hands of pros. Calhoun does an incredible job of inhabiting the skins of multiple characters throughout the proceedings, as well as being our guide through history. Her fluidity of characterization is never forced, instead flowing from her honestly and in several of the last moments of the show, with heart-breaking tenderness. This is an actor who trusts their talent and craft, and allows herself to have fun when appropriate. Calhoun is also possessed of a beautiful singing voice used to excellent effect in portions of this play.

Camille Monae charms as Mildred Loving, or “Bean” as her husband affectionately calls her. Nothing about her performance is pushed. Instead she quietly fills the house with the reality of a shy, meek person who finds they have an extraordinary amount of courage. Her performance settles this play firmly in reality. Her physicality is excellent and nuanced. Monae is an expert at using the smallest details to convey a multi-dimensional, fully realized person. Watch as she nervously twists a phone cord to offset the calmness of her voice, or uses perfect puppy-dog eyes to get her husband to do something she really wants him to do. Monae’s uncovering of the grit that laid inside of Mildred all along is poetic.

D.R. Mann Hanson plays a man who is simple in his wishes – he is in love with the most beautiful girl at the dance, he wants to make her happy. He wants to provide for the family. There is no showboating here, instead a gentle and expertly drawn offering of a rarely seen sort of character in the theatre, a good man who is showing up and trying his best on a daily basis. In Hanson’s hands, you get to see there is a deep heroism in that steadfastness. Hanson also conveys the frustration of a man who is not cut out for city life, who worries about his family, but is not one to raise his voice. You never doubt for a moment how much this man loves his wife. Hanson is wonderfully relaxed in his role, and unafraid to play a character that just isn’t particularly bright or far-thinking, but who is, by-God, a truly good man.

The director of this show, Morgana Wilborn has done an excellent job creating a unified vision of this play – one that does not preach, which could have so easily happened in lesser hands. Hansen allows for joy and laughter to resonate with equal measure to the more dramatic moments. Her impeccable scene work allowed her actors to appear to coast effortlessly atop the multiple emotions covered through range of the piece. Her choice to have the character of Maya be played by a gender-fluid actor was inspired. Her deft choices in the overall themes of the play allow space for the audience to lean in to what is happening both onstage and in real life here in Dallas.

The technical aspects of this multi-media show are gorgeous and lend much to the overall impact of the piece. Technical Director Michael Cleveland’s set is simple but effective, as are his lights. Sound Design by Ric Jones is complex but not over-blown. Multiple sound and image cues kept Stage Manager Destiney S. Higgins hopping, but there was not one glitch or error to impede the build of this show to its emotional conclusion. Costuming by Amenta Rasa was lovely – keeping the characters in the same outfits for most of the proceedings but changing them at an important time jump was just right.

Teresa Colman Wash, the executive artistic director for Bishop Arts Theatre Center, is to be congratulated on bringing this wonderful piece of theatre to Dallas. It’s a wonderful show, one that made me brush tears from my eyes at the same time that I was smiling and nodding my head. After the play concluded, I leaned over to the mixed-race couple sitting next to me, and asked them what they thought of it. There was a pause, which is always a good sign that something has been truly impactful. He is a history major, and said he loved having the history – the people who made the history – brought to life, that he understood so much more about the case after seeing the people in it so honestly portrayed. Her answer was that she was moved by the humanness of it all – that the Lovings really at the core of it truly loved each other. Maybe it is in that kind of love we can all find hope. Please go see this play, you’ll be so very glad you did.