Imagine that you are a child and you are exploring your grandmother’s closets. Or you’re an adult whose grandmother has died and it’s your responsibility to go to their home and sort through her possessions, decide what you want to keep and get rid of the rest. Imagine you find a scrapbook – a dreambook – in which your grandmother has kept track of her dreams and disappointments: her hopes for the future, her hopes for you. You realize that the things that your grandmother kept were different from what your grandfather kept. You realize that this is a record of women’s work: women’s business. And this is your inheritance.
Stephen A. Butler, Jr’s play – the by-turns gut-wrenching, eye-opening, and inspiring Veils– is just such a scrapbook, dreambook and record of women’s work. Mr. Butler invites us to scroll through the pages and gather to ourselves, from a history that is rapidly being lost, the knowledge and strength to face the challenges of the times we are currently in.
Veils must close Sunday, November 10, 2019. Details and tickets
Veils reminds us – or informs us, if we didn’t already know – of the lives and commitments of women involved in the civil rights movement. He tells us of such women such as Betty Shabazz, Mamie Till, Angela Davis, Lorena Ware, Myrlie Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, Alberta King, Fannie Lou Chaney and links the stories of the past to our present through the presence of Sybrina Martin, mother of Trayvon Martin who receives support from those women of the past as well as the spiritual encouragement from the ever-present, if often unacknowledged, African pantheon in the form of Yemaya.
Mr. Butler – taking heed of the words of Angela Davis, who makes an appearance in this play – illustrates how the concerns of white women and black women are linked (and the threat that such a linkage poses to the maintenance of the patriarchy of white men) by bringing in the stories of Jackie Kennedy, Viola Liuzzo, Rita Schwerner and Joan Baez.
Highlights from the show. The voices in this show are ridiculously marvelous. Roz White, Desiree Dubose, Corisa Myers, Brandyn Ashley, Kandace Foreman and Andrea Gerald are all impeccable.
Nina Simone notes in her song “MISSISSIPPI GODDAM!” that “this is a show tune but the show hasn’t been written for it yet.” With Veils, Stephen Butler makes a bid to provide that show. Andrea Gerald knocks this number out of the ballpark, reminding an audience who know all the words, of the vitality and usefulness of this song. This arrangement of “MISSISSIPPI GODDAM!” departs from the original in that it starts out with a sad, almost despairing quality of looking back and wondering – how is it possible that we are still here and this song is still relevant? Then it moves into a renewed sense of resistance to the gaslighting that is exhibited in America’s current resurgence of white supremacy.
Jenna Murphy’s delivery of Joan Baez’s relentlessly quiet rage as she sings “Birmingham Sunday” envelopes the retelling and remembering of the murder of The Four Little Girls in the 16th street Baptist Church as their mothers choose clothes that the corpses of their daughters will be buried in.
Then there is the interview of Angela Davis on Tony Brown’s Journal. Oh. My. God. This is masterful acting by a pair who know their craft. Jeremy Keith Hunter sets up the scene, Suli Myrie enters and inhabits the persona of Angela Davis with affectionate humor, incisive seriousness and the core dramaturgical strength of a Serena Williams serving a tennis ball at Wimbledon. Mr. Hunter returns every serve with the deftness of a Venus Williams who anticipates her sister’s every move and remains ready.
The costumes (by Courtney Baker-Oliver and Stephen A. Butler, Jr.) provide a scrapbook-like texture that immediately pulls you back in time. And there were delights and curiosities at every turn. The sound and video design by the ever present David Lamont Wilson helped maintain the disparate parts of the production as a coherent whole.
Voices! Costumes! Sound! Lights! Projections! Passion and commitment! History you didn’t know or have almost forgot. There’s a lot of stimulating and engaging excitement in this show. There are surprises and encouragement in every image and in every scene.
“I think everyone should see this.” – Mary Liuzzo, daughter of Viola Liuzzo, white female civil rights martyr.
Veils by Steven A. Butler, Jr. and Courtney Baker-Oliver . Directed by Courtney Baker-Oliver . Featuring Roz White, Desiré DuBose, Suli Myrie, Andrea Gerald, Brandyn Marshall, Corisa Myers, Kandace Foreman, Jenna Murphy with special appearance by David Lamont Wilson . Produced by Restoration Stage . Reviewed by Gregory Ford.
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