Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2020-07-08
DOWNLOAD ISSUE
About WCMG Publications News  Entertainment Features Donate Bars & Clubs Calendar Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

Sponsor
Sponsor

  WINDY CITY TIMES

THEATER REVIEW Day of Absence
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times
2020-03-14

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


Playwright: Douglas Turner Ward

At: Congo Square Theatre at Victory Gardens, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: 773-871-3000; CongoSquareTheatre.org; $40 ( includes service fee ) Runs through: March 22 [suspended because of COVID-19 outbreak]

[NOTE: Performances have been suspended due to COVID-19, but Windy City Times feels this review should run to acknowledge the work of the artists involved.]

Douglas Turner Ward's Day of Absence was quite controversial in 1965 when it was new, and became the first success of the award winning Negro Ensemble Company. It was a broadly played satire about daily life in a fictional southern town where all the Black residents suddenly disappeared for one day. White folks awoke to find no delivery men, no maids or cooks or nurses, no janitors or drivers, leaving them helpless, discombobulated and at each other's throats.

As specified by Ward, all the white characters were played by Black actors in whiteface makeup, creating exaggerations of white people rather than realistic portrayals. This was exactly what white actors in blackface had done for 80 years in minstrel shows, with stylized and insulting portrayals of Black people.

Both the original story and performance technique have been preserved by Congo Square Theatre—now celebrating its 20th anniversary—in this energetic 75-minute staging, directed by Anthony Irons. Without question Day of Absence remains a funny and prickly bit of theater, but it doesn't seem very controversial any more.

To be sure, Congo Square has substantially updated the script with references to Groupon, bloggers, Ikea, cell phones and building The Wall. This last reference is because Congo Square has expanded the absentees to include Latinx residents along with Blacks, with several Latinx actors joining Congo Square's Black artists in a versatile seven-person ensemble.

But retaining the southern, small-town setting makes Day of Absence much less immediate than it might be. After all, few of us have maids, cooks or drivers. But imagine a northern, urban version of this premise. Withdraw Blacks and latins from Chicago and we'd have no government, no public transit, no restaurants whether fast food or fine dining, no postal delivery, no public schools, no hospitals, no manufacturing, no professional sports except hockey and no newspapers ( not even this one ). Surely that's the play Ward would write, were he writing it now! So Day of Absence today could use a sharper edge, but that's not the fault of this Congo Square production.

Another aspect is that theatre goers who came of age in the 1990s or later may be unaware of the legacy of blackface. In my theater history courses at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I make a point of discussing blackface and also yellowface, brownface and whiteface. Even when the intent is not comic or insulting, is it ever appropriate for actors to use makeup to play characters of a different race? I challenge students to consider if there can be legitimate social, political, historical or dramatic reasons to use any kind of "face" in theater day. Day of Absence would suggest the answer is "yes."


facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email





Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.



Copyright © 2020 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 

 

 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS

Sponsor
Sponsor


 



About WCMG Publications News  Entertainment Features Donate Bars & Clubs Calendar Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.