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The World is My Home: The Life of Paul Robeson

a One Man Show
by Stogie Kenyatta

COMPANY : Academy Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Hapeville Performing Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 4600

SHOWING : July 05, 2014 - July 06, 2014



Stogie Kenyatta presents this one man show about the life of Paul Robeson.

Engineer Hayley Hoopingarner
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by playgoer
Sunday, July 6, 2014
Stogie Kenyatta’s "The World Is My Home - The Life of Paul Robeson" takes slavery as its framing device. Paul Robeson’s father was a runaway slave aided by Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, and the play starts with him. The play ends with Paul Robeson sailing across the Atlantic on his last transoceanic cruise, imagining that the souls of drowned slaves are reaching out to him as a conduit for their suffering. Between these bookends, the story of Paul Robeson’s life plays out.

Stogie Kenyatta is a good actor, and he plays the multiple characters in the story with energy and variety. He’s always entertaining to watch, but his script tends to use phrases spoken quickly and repeatedly, particularly when he is portraying the five-year-old Paul. This, plus repeated line stumbles, lengthens the show unnecessarily. Some pruning would help.

A little audience interaction is included in the show, which helps to engage the audience. Five-year-old Paul addresses the audience as new "colored children" in his neighborhood, and a segment on the Harlem Renaissance has him imitating Cab Calloway and having the audience echo his "hi-dee-ho’s." It’s really extraneous, but it’s fun.

The entire show is based on historical fact, but timelines are sometimes muddled. Mr. Kenyatta intercuts Robeson’s 1943 "Othello" in New York with comments on the Spanish Civil War and a visit to the Warsaw ghetto before Jewish extermination by the Nazis. The loose timeline occasionally confuses, as with the discovery of a breast lump by his wife that seems to transition into mourning of her death, but immediately jumps back to a time period in which Robeson was traveling with his wife.

The Hapeville Performing Arts Center is currently just a long, narrow room with no stage and primitive lighting and with columns obstructing views of the stage from some angles. Technical difficulties abounded at the performance I saw, with a fill-in sound/light technician. With some of the action occurring on the floor, sightlines were a problem at times for the packed audience.

The technical issues couldn’t disguise the fact that Mr. Kenyatta is not much of a singer, while Paul Robeson had a glorious bass/baritone voice (which we hear in recording). Mr. Kenyatta’s imitations of Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway singing are marginally acceptable, but his flat, unremarkable voice does no credit to Paul Robeson. Mr. Robeson was also an attorney, athlete, actor, and activist, but his singing is what lives on most today in recordings and films. It’s disappointing that Mr. Kenyatta can’t fully embody that aspect of Paul Robeson.

"The World Is My Home - The Life of Paul Robeson" is a generally interesting, if over-long, history lesson that is brought to life by Stogie Kenyatta’s emotional, varied acting. The production has toured throughout the world, and has won an NAACP award. It may have toured the world, but it’s not really world-class. Its diffuse script takes too many side alleys to make for a truly transporting evening of historical entertainment. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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