African American Repertory Theater
Director – Belinda Boyd
Stage Manager – Christina Cranshaw
Scenic Design – Bradley Gray
Light Design – Jonathan Jones
Sound Design – Belinda Boyd
Costume Design – Renee Miche’al
Property Design – Angela Washington
Eunice Evers – Regina Washington
Willie Johnson – Christopher Dontrell Piper
Caleb Humphries – Artist Thornton, Jr.
Ben Washington – Selmore Haines, III
Hodman Bryan – Alonzo Waller
Dr. Eugene Brodus – Angelo Reid
Dr. John Douglas – Parker Fitzgerald
Reviewed Performance 2/20/2015
Reviewed by Elaine Plybon, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Between the years 1932 and 1972, the U.S. Government was involved in a study that involved African American men who had syphilis. The men were unaware of the full purpose of the study, and researchers withheld treatment from them even after a cure was found in the early 1940s. Miss Evers’ Boys, the play on the subject penned by David Feldshuh, weaves a story that both informs and evokes emotion from its audience.
Though inspired by actual events, the characters and events in the play are fictional. Feldshuh, who is also a practicing doctor, allows glimpses into the men’s lives and what it might have been like to be involved in the study. Feldshuh earned a nomination for a Pulitzer Prize for the play in 1992 and the subsequent made-for-TV movie on HBO won four Emmy awards in 1997.
The set has distinct areas which are present throughout the play and worked well in the black box theater. Designed by Bradley Gray, the scenery suggested the interior of a run-down school house, along with the office of one of the research doctors and the desk of Nurse Evers. Oddly, the chairs at the desks were reminiscent of church furniture rather than the usual, drab office furniture found of that time. However, their use was minimal so as to not be a distraction. An old-style chalkboard is the central focal point of the schoolhouse. A table in front of the chalkboard serves as a teacher’s desk and examining table. The design was perfectly subdued so as to not distract from the action while still supporting each scene.
Sound design consisted of well-placed and softly played spirituals, such as “Amazing Grace” and “There is a Balm in Gilead”, which provided a soulful reminder of the human struggle playing out behind the scenes.
Costumes by Renee Miche’al were time period appropriate, with smartly tailored dresses for Nurse Evers and overalls and tattered work clothes for the men being studied. Props by Angela Washington were useful accessories for the characters.
The action begins with a monologue by Eunice Evers, portrayed by Regina Washington. She has several throughout the play and they provided transition between scenes and additional information necessary to advance the plot. Washington delivered a strong performance with her downcast eyes betraying the turmoil lying under the surface. With each interaction with the men, Washington was more and more believable as the caring nurse who was misled into perpetuating lies necessary to continue the study.
The men are introduced through banter between the four of them while they wait in the old schoolhouse for Miss Evers to arrive. The dialogue between the men flowed as a tennis match, with volley after volley being tossed across the stage. It was an entertaining passage of time. The men all worked well together, and it is to the credit of Director Belinda Boyd that they had such wonderful chemistry.
Christopher Dontrell Piper delivered the strongest performance of the evening as Willie Johnson, an aspiring dancer. The energy he carried throughout the performance was both entertaining and crucial to the development of the character. With a big grin that nearly never disappeared and a bounce in his step, Piper was a pleasure to watch.
The man who developed the strongest relationship with Evers was Caleb Humphries, skillfully played by Artist Thornton, Jr. Thornton delivered a believable performance as the proud and strong young widower. As his character transitioned between disbelief and trust, Thornton’s facial expressions enhanced the dialogue. Particularly well done was the portrayal of Humphries’ reaction to pain during one of the medical procedures.
Selmore Haines, III played the mellow Ben Washington with ease. His saunter across the stage and sideways glances added to the nuances of his character. Hodman Bryan’s portrayal of Alonzo Waller was also very skillfully done. With each of his movements and reactions, the development of Hodman as a proud man who never wants to cause any trouble was impeccable.
Research doctors Eugene Brodus and John Douglas were played by Angelo Reid and Parker Fitzgerald. The duo was extremely believable as men who, in the beginning, seemingly had good intentions but became blinded by the reality of what was happening. Reid’s thoughtful gaze as he considers Nurse Evers pleas were especially telling.
The performances by these skilled actors were diminished only by their very expertise. At times their drive to deliver meaning with every line slowed the action, so that energy was missing. The blocking was also at times very distracting as the audience was commonly watching the action from behind.
During intermission and after, an education table is available in the lobby, and everyone who sees the play will leave with a stronger understanding of its history and much to think about.
The African American Repertory Theatre’s production of Miss Evers’ Boys serves as a solemn reminder of the issues surrounding the event. There is a need for the message delivered by this play. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study was one that inspired the creation of safety regulations surrounding research involving human subjects, and as such is an event that must be remembered so that it will never be repeated.
MISS EVERS’ BOYS
African American Repertory Theater
at the KD Studio Theatre
2600 N. Stemmons Freeway #180
Dallas, TX 75207
Runs through March 8th
Thursdays-Fridays-Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 pm
Tickets are $15-25, with group discounts and student rates available.
For information and to purchase tickets, visit http://www.aareptheater.com or call the box office at 972-572-0998.