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Miss Evers Boys
a Drama
CATEGORY : DRAMA
by David Feldsuh

COMPANY : True Colors Theatre Company
VENUE : Southwest Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 3319

SHOWING : March 04, 2009 - March 21, 2009

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

An eye-opening drama about the Tuskegee Study
chronicled through the eyes of a nurse who attempts to aid four men but self-serving doctors and Washington bureaucracy thwart her efforts. Starring Jasmine Guy & TC Carson. Directed by Kenny Leon


CAST & CREW LIST
COSTUME DESIGNER SHILLA BENNING
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Fine acting, but how's the conversation going?
by uppermiddlebrow
Sunday, March 15, 2009
4.0
It's painful to watch the story of the infamous Tuskegee Study unfold, as well it should be. Hundreds of uneducated African-American sharecroppers with syphilis were kept without treatment for forty years to satisfy a medical researcher's curiosity, vanity or career needs and the US Public Health Service's wish for a control group.

Miss Evers' Boys is a study (or two or three) itself. Memorializing the overall scandal of a deeply unethical medical research program would be worthwhile for its own sake. Society still grapples with the related ethics of withholding treatments of unproven value in order to run placebo-controlled trials, which are the only generally accepted way to establish a drug's benefit. But this play is also a study of a good nurse (Jasmine Guy) who, obeying her medical superiors, knowingly betrays patients who trust her and whom she loves. The playwright lets us peek under his microscope at the slippery slope of moral compromises down which Nurse Evers is persuaded to slide - and it is all too realistic a sight. We also get a good look at the moral weakness of the doctor in charge at Tuskegee (TC Carson) and at the pressures he feels as a black professional in a white-dominated world. And then there's the white doctor (Bart Hansard) who appears to evolve from well-intentioned healer to a Mengele of a researcher over the forty-year span of the play.

The acting in the True Colors revival of the 1992 play is strong and sympathetic across the board. As usual, Kenny Leon is able to attract talent from the black showbiz world to do some real work on an Atlanta stage for a spell. In this case Jasmine Guy (whose credits include starring in TV's "A Different World" as well as acting in "Chicago") in the leading role establishes such a rapport that she almost breaks down our moral defenses. Without the charm, dancing prowess and, ultimately, the righteous anger of one of her surviving victims (Eric Little), we'd probably let her off the hook. Carson and Hansard both manage to find enough depth in their parts to be much more human than stage villains.

Yet worthwhile themes and great acting aren't enough to make the play compelling theatre. Don't get me wrong: if you've never seen Miss Evers'Boys, you should. But this was the second time for me, and there was something plodding and predictable in the writing that even this powerful ensemble could not lift. The general audience response was wildly enthusiastic, however.

Which brings us to a tough question about the conversation. Our new Attorney-General, Eric Holder, recently let slip a comment about American cowardice in the conversation on race. First let me situate myself as a comfortable, white, half-Jewish, liberal resident of midtown Atlanta, but also an immigrant, with only 30 years of living in this country. Perhaps that outsider status makes me foolhardy enough to try a few comments that will inevitably be misunderstood and give offense to some. But it could be useful to spark some discussion.

I think Holder is telling it like it is. Of the 350-strong audience at the Southwest Arts Center where True Colors is staging Miss Evers' Boys, maybe a dozen or so were white last night. OK, Cascade Road, where the new theatre is located, is famously the residential area for better-off black folks. But come on - a dozen whites out of 350 in the audience? Not much of a conversation going on there. We don't live in the same neighborhoods, which was one of Holder's points.

It's also as if the African-American audience is comfortable watching stories of their people's victimization and the white audience doesn't want to know. As a half-Jew I can both relate to the tendency to dwell on victimization and wish I could get past it. I'm not sure we - blacks or Jews - can get past the need to keep re-telling our terrible stories. Maybe the hurt and the fear run too deep. But I think it was Leslie Fiedler who said something along the lines that Jews will be able to shut up about the libel of Shylock when Gentiles acknowledge without prompting what a horror of a stereotype Shakespeare created. If there's little dialogue, the potentially healing acknowledgments from the old majority are not going to happen. And perhaps it's the awareness of the hurts that inhibit that very dialogue among people of goodwill.

Kenny Leon brought stories of the African-American experience - notably August Wilson's play cycle - to mainstream Atlanta during his tenure at the Alliance. Few could have done a better job of bridging the racial divide and promoting the conversation than Mr. Leon, with his charisma, self-deprecating humor and charm along with his smooth directorial skills. I wonder if he felt that he'd achieved some success or that it had largely been a dialogue of the deaf.

Let's hope True Colors will find ways to draw both African-Americans and the rest of us into their audience. That might mean in practice that the Southwest Arts Center cannot be their only Atlanta home. Yet at the same time of course Cascade Road has as much right to its own theatre facilities and quality productions as downtown or Little Five Points. It's a long schlepp, after all, from Cascade and New Hope Road to the Woodruff Arts Center or King Plow. It would be great if, for example, the Shakespeare Tavern could tour some of their shows to the Southwest Arts Center and draw full houses. That would help knit the city's theatre together. Not that one should indulge the illusion that attending a play is the same as having a conversation. Since theatre is not a conversation, does that make it OK if we do our theatre-going separately?

With apologies for throwing a few partly-formed thoughts out there on an explosive issue - and still with the hope that doing so produces more light than heat.



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