This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001



(photo by Ronald L. Glassman)

Miss Mary White Ovington (Kathleen Chalfant) and Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois (Timothy Simonson) discuss the state of the NAACP and more in world premiere play (photo by Ronald L. Glassman)

Castillo Theatre
543 West 42nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Thursday – Sunday through February 16, $25

On an early summer Sunday morning on Fifth Ave. in 1915, a white woman and a black man both unexpectedly show up at their place of employment, unable to rest from their crusade for justice and equality. Clare Coss’s slight but affecting Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington, presented by Woodie King Jr.’s New Federal Theatre at the Castillo, offers the unique opportunity of spending ninety minutes with social activists Mary White Ovington (Kathleen Chalfant) and Dr. William Edward Burghardt (W. E. B.) Du Bois (Timothy Simonson) as they discuss racism, politics, war, family, and more in the office of the NAACP, which they helped cofound and where Dr. Du Bois writes and edits The Crisis, the organization’s controversial magazine. Angered once again by disagreements with the board, Dr. Du Bois has come to the office to revise his resignation letter, while Miss Ovington is there because she was troubled as well by the previous evening’s board meeting. Ever determined, she says, “Fate has thrown us together now. Let us take advantage of this propitious moment.” And take advantage they do, often speaking in pedagogical, resolute phrases as Miss Ovington tries to convince Dr. Du Bois that he must stay with the NAACP. “Here, we unite against the greatest odds, because we value the worth of every single human being, We must not fail,” she says. “We must not fail, for our task is to transform three hundred years of alienation between black and white in our country,” he replies poetically, “and stir a great awakening in the American Negro — an inner revolution.” As they continue sharing their passions, they grow closer physically as well. Directed by longtime Castillo veteran Gabrielle L. Kurlander (Sally and Tom [The American Way]), the play is anchored by solid performances from Chalfant (Wit, Angels in America) and Simonson (Adam), who instill their characters with an endearing grace and warm familiarity, although Simonson includes an additional dose of earnestness. Chris Cumberbatch’s set is an office torn in half; on the left is Miss Ovington’s desk, with a typewriter and a window that looks out onto the city, while on the right is Dr. Du Bois’s darker, more claustrophobic space, with a dictaphone and a record player with an old horn speaker, echoing their respective roles in changing America’s views on racism. Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington is an intimate look at a critical moment in time whose ultimate impact can still be felt today.

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