*Well who, pray tell, is Miss Ovington? This is the question many may be asking in this eloquently-written tale of ‘Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington,’ a Robey Theatre production currently running through May 21 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in downtown Los Angeles.
The answer to that question, in a nutshell, is she was a social activist and scholar who was prominent in shaping what we now know as the NAACP — right alongside Dr. Du Bois. As a staunch supporter of the civil rights movement along with her colleague, Du Bois, she also despised the social inequities that even made an NAACP necessary.
Add to this the inevitable pull of attraction between a man and woman so intricately engaged — at a time when the mere thought of such a union would be grounds for a lynching!
In this production, the year is 1915, and two scholars-slash-social activists — W.E.B. Du Bois and Mary Ovington — are seen working on a Saturday in the small New York City office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Each is initially surprised that the other has come in to work on this day, but Du Bois is on a mission. Infuriated by the disrespect he feels his Board is showing him, he intends to revise his letter of resignation — as Miss Ovington points out.…for the 4th time.
Miss Ovington is as sincere and passionate about the civil rights movement as they come. She has a sharp intellect to boot and is an apt sparring partner to Du Bois. But she is a white woman, and she sees things differently than this lived and learned Black man that she obviously holds in high esteem. For example, when dictating the demands he wants her to add to his resignation letter he accused the board of not wanting to “share power with a negro.”
In response, Miss Ovington, who constantly accuses Du Bois of being “divisive” interjects, “They are sharing power. They’re just not used to it!”
Yet on this day her aim is to talk her superior, Du Bois, out of resigning; and this must happen post-haste as he has a train to catch. If only she could put him at ease long enough to take in what she offers.
“Dr. Du Bois, why not take off your jacket?” She tells him, saying he would be more comfortable.
To this he replies, “I am used to being uncomfortable!”
Throughout the play Miss Ovington offers all the reasons why Du Bois resigning is not a good option, and his reactions to her efforts make the two a great duo to watch.
Guillory not only stars as Du Bois — brilliantly in fact, (his look is perfect) and even what may be a bout of flubbed lines or personal stumbles fits the character he has designed nicely — but he directs as well. He makes some smart choices in this regard too. At one point, mere lighting changes transport the two activists that the audience sees still standing in the office, to Oberlin College and a church — where Du Bois and Ovington respectively are speaking simultaneously to their audience; each offering a barrage of historical data and comments in a rapid-fire, fact-finding kind of way. Case in point: At one turn Du Bois will provide some tidbit of historical reference, at another Ovington will pose a question, “Who are my Black colleagues? Why have I never met them?”
Another smart director’s choice is the actualization of The Waltz.
Guillory’s Dubois is reserved and focused, and Melanie Cruz as Miss Ovington just doesn’t get any better. She is truly a joy to behold and handles writer Clare Coss’ words — which comes across in a more period piece kind of way, wonderfully. Ovington, though careful at times not to over-step does manage to make her opinions known to Du Bois in a rather lady-like, non-threatening way. He appreciates her as an “inspiration.”
But oh boy, the spark that just can’t help but fly when hands touch.
Very nice set and costume design by Thomas Meleck and Naila A. Sanders respectively.
‘Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington’ is in association with the Los Angeles Theatre Center. Performances are Sundays at 3 p.m., and Thurs.- Sat. at 8 p.m. through May 21 at LATC, 514 S. Spring Street, Theatre 4, Los Angeles, CA. 90013. Tickets range $20-$30. For more info or to purchase tickets contact LATC Box office at 866.811.4111, or for group sales information call 213.489.0994. Click here to search for tickets online.