Kirk Douglas Theatre / Los Angeles
On through 27 July
In this new play by Tanya Barfield, we center on a quiet but determined young African-American secretary (Jade Kingston) in Woodrow Wilson’s White House. In the opening moments, she is compiling a list of “distinguished” staffers under Wilson. This will be the starting point for the President to begin segregating government offices. Down the hall in the Oval Office, the tension is mounting and the first World War is inevitable. Jade feels blessed to have a steady job where she is respected and has a roof over her head (she lives with her brother, Eugene, who aspires to be a painter). It is when her boss, Edward Christianson inches towards propositioning her, that everything begins to unravel. The war is on, and the majority of government offices are designated to put the right spin and posters on it for the American people, and the slightest straying from conventional patriotism is suspect.
Barfield’s play illuminates a horrifying and very literal picture of America in the early teens. When we first see the setting of the Oval Office with a single desk, it all seems rather uninspired. As we move through the story, however, the minutia is soon layered in: snippets of D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” talk of pulling sauerkraut off the local menus, and more than one tortured government employee.
Michole Briana White as Jade is very demur when we first meet her, and her gradual progression – oscillating between what is moral and what is righteous – is a marvel to watch. She is well-complimented by fellow players, Christopher O’Neal Warren (as Eugene) and JD Cullum. Lawrence Pressman as President Wilson and Michael T. Weiss as Christianson seem to be written (and played) with broad strokes, which come right up to the brink of caricature. Nonetheless, this fascinating story and the gravitas of its implications resonate well beyond the walls of the Kirk Douglas.