Melanie Cruz and Ben Guillory
Photos by: Matthew Leland
By Darlene Donloe
Like a fly on the wall, the audience is able to listen to candid conversations between Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois and NAACP co-founder Miss Ovington in the Robey Theater Company production of Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington, currently playing through May 21, at the Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC).
Dr. W.E.B. Dubois was and continues to be a larger than life figure in the civil rights movement. He was best known for ruffling feathers by saying exactly what was on his mind.
Dubois, who co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was considered one of the most important black protest leaders in the United States during the first half of the 20th century.
A civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, sociologist, educator, historian, writer, editor, poet, and scholar, Du Bois publicly fought for the civil rights of African Americans and was vocal about his opposition to racism. Miss Ovington was also an intellectual who could stand toe-to-toe with Du Bois.
Melanie Cruz and Ben Guillory
Photo credit: Blaze
This two-person, one-act, presentation is performed by Melanie Cruz, who plays Miss Ovington and Ben Guillory, who, in addition to playing W.E.B. Du Bois, also directs.
When the play opens it’s a Sunday morning in June 1915 and both Dr. Du Bois, who, of course, is black and Miss Ovington, who is white, have arrived at the NAACP office to catch up on their work. Co-founders of the organization, neither knew the other would be there. Du Bois is there to put the finishing touches on his fourth resignation letter to the organization. The only Black man in a leadership position at the NAACP at the time, he’s grown weary of the organization pulling the strings. He does not want to report to a committee of three. He wants the NAACP’s board to treat him as an equal or he’ll leave the NAACP.
This play brings Miss Ovington’s unknown and untold role as a co-founder of the NAACP to life.
In this production a reserved Miss Ovington tries to talk Du Bois off the ledge. After all, because she believes Du Bois is the power behind the NAACP, she wants to save the organization by convincing him to stay and continue his work. As the afternoon wears on, the two wax philosophical about race, civil rights, justice and even relationships. Soon, sexual tension fills the office and the two of them have to quickly decide their next move. Their attraction for and to each other is palpable. It’s an interesting turn of events because Du Bois is married, but he is rarely in the same room as his wife, who lives in London. Miss Ovington is single, but isn’t serious about anyone.
There is some rich dialogue in Clare Coss’s slow and deliberate piece. There isn’t much action, but the play flows on the strength of the examination of two bright historical figures. The attempt is to peel back the curtain just enough to peek in and see a different side of Du Bois and to reveal the importance of Miss Ovington to the organization’s success. We find that Du Bois wasn’t that much different than his public persona. His gate was still reserved and rigid, his opinions verbally dispersed. With Ovington it’s a wide open canvass as not much about her has even been discussed.
Both Guillory and Melanie Cruz are a delight to watch as they spar. Both move about the stage with confidence. Guillory is always a commanding figure on stage. He brings an undeniable dignity to the role. Cruz is an absolute delight with her delicate movements and her radiant and beatific expressions. She delivers a strong, charming and feisty Miss Ovington.
Under the direction of Ben Guillory, Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington flows freely. Thomas Meleck’s impressive set, Michael David Ricks’ lighting, Ivan Robles’ sound and Naila A. Sanders’ costumes makes for a full and convincing production.
Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington, written by Clare Coss and directed by Ben Guillory, stars Guillory and Melanie Cruz.
The show is produced by The Robey Theatre Company in association with Los Angeles Theatre Center.
On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent), Dr. Dubois and Miss Ovington gets an O (oh, yeah).
Dr. Dubois and Miss Ovington, Los Angeles Theatre Center, Theatre 4, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles; 8 p.m., Thur.-Sat; 3 p.m. Sun. through May 21; $20-$30; For information: (213) 489-7402, (866) 811-4111 or www.thelatc.org.