Port City Playhouse No Niggers, No Jews, No DogsBy Laura & Mike Clark • Feb 23rd, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Port City Playhouse
The Lab at Convergence, Alexandria, VA
Through March 6th
2:30 with one intermission
$18/$16 Seniors and Juniors
Reviewed February 18th, 2011
No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs is a play by John Henry Redwood. Follow the trials of the Cheeks family as they deal with racism and abuse at the hands of their community in rural North Carolina in 1949.
This was a fabulous show to witness and be a part of even though at times it was a gut-wrenching heartbreaker. The cast worked together so well and the language flowed in such a way that it was very easy to follow, despite the cruel stories and history being shared. Do not let the title of the show shock you. Port City’s No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs is definitely worth the price of admission.
The Cheek family, Mattie, Rawl, Joyce, and Matoka were all hard workers barely making it, but accepting of their station in life. Mattie, the matriarch, played with exceptional stamina by Lolita-Marie, had a strength that came from within that led her to protect her family to the extreme. But she also let go with a fiery disposition that showed itself whenever she felt the need to keep her family in line. DeJeanette Horne played the head of the family Rawl. As Rawl he provided and sacrificed for his family yet loved them all with a passion. He thought his family was everything and when he felt that Mattie had betrayed him, it proved to be more than he could bear and he left. Horne was very effective at channeling his rage while maintaining his love for his family. Watchig Lolita-Marie and Horne together was a treat, as their strengths merged for two fascinating performances.
Their daughters Joyce (Marissa Moody) and Matoka (Aeshia Brown) were faithful who each had a different way of expressing themselves. The younger daughter Matoka saw the world (to pardon the expression) as black or white and did not have any trouble calling things as she saw them. This sometimes caused her mother some frustration. Older sister Joyce saw more shades of gray and understood more about the evil in the world at an age when life should be opening up for her. Moody could walk onto the family’s front porch and lower the temperature by a few degrees on the spot. Through her temperament, she came across much older than her 17 years.
The family was visited by a Jewish scholar named Yaveni Aaronsohn, played by David Berkenbilt, who was writing about the Cheek family’s experiences as a case study in dealing with oppression, but also came to work through some of his own demons and pain. Although he never quite fit into the family, as Mattie was quick to remind him, Aaronsohn managed to slowly work his way into their family. He opened up to them by revealing why he had really come to North Carolina. Strange Aunt Cora (Kecia Campbell) had the smallest part, but held the strongest glue. Her scene with Mattie, Yaveni, and the girls was a moving piece so well written and staged that you didn’t breathe until the scene changed.
The opening slideshow at first seemed uninteresting, but it was necessary to help get you set in the era of 1949 and the hate that occured primarily in the South, but actually happened all over the world. Some of the images were hard to absorb, but were necessary to make you appreciate the suffering of the Cheek family.
Set Designer Erin Cumbo used a simple house with the stereotypical front porch complete with swing to help you understand how they lived then. The props and set dressing by Donna Reynolds made it feel like an authentic Southern town. The lighting design by Ari McSherry was simple, but effective in setting the right tone for the show. Nicole Zuchetto’s costumes were faithful to the characters, with many textures, worn spots, and a few frayed edges.
After the opening night performance a brief talkback was held with the playwright’s daughter, Rhonda Redwood-Ray. This play is frequently referred to as the “No Play,” which Ms. Redwood-Ray doubts her father would have approved of, as his goal was to make people sit up and think, and confront, their pasts. The post-show discussion was lively, and could have continued for hours.
This powerful drama may not be suitable to young audiences and may even be disturbing to older audiences, but is a production not to be missed. After the Sunday, February 27th performance, there will be a post-show discussion with Billy Colbert, an artist, and Ray Wilson, a photographer.
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We may have all come from different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.” John Henry Redwood’s play invokes the hateful images of racism and forces us to acknowledge that many races in America been victimized. The Blacks, Jews, Native Americans, Asians, Hispanics have known it, as well as the Irish and Eastern Europeans, Mr. Redwood dares us to look “signs” of racism dead in the eye, including the title of this play: No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs. He challenges people of good conscience to come together as a united front, daring people of all races to stand up and say, “No more.”
Mr. Redwood’s play with the provocative title is set in Halifax, North Carolina, in 1949. It may seem to be a story about a Jewish scholar doing research for a book on the comparative racial suffering of Jews and Negros, but mostly it is a gripping portrait of a heroic Black Woman, Mattie Cheeks, who battles unspeakable evil to save her family. As Mattie says, “Black women have held secrets inside themselves for years in order to keep their men alive and I am not going to lose my husband over this. I do not want to see my husband hanging from a tree.”
I am honored to have been given the opportunity to bring Mr. Redwood’s words to life as we celebrate Black History Month 2011. I am equally honored and humbled by the members of this talented cast, who have been so open and sharing about their own experiences with racism and intolerance. As I began this project, I thought of myself as the director, the teacher; however, as we went through the process, I found myself being the student.
Photos by Ari McSherry.
- Matoka (Toke) Cheeks: Aeshia Brown
- Aunt Cora: Kecia Campbell
- Mattie Cheeks: Lolita-Marie
- Rawl Cheeks: DeJeanette Horne
- Yaveni Aaronsohn: David Berkenbilt
- Joyce Cheeks: Marissa Moody
- Producers: Robert Kraus and Michele Bell
- Director: Frank Pasqualino
- Stage Manager: Susie Poole
- Asst. Stage Manager: Julia Harrison
- Costume Design: Nicole Zuchetto
- Assisted by: Annie Vroom, Jean Schlichting, and Kit Sibley
- Set Design: Erin Cumbo
- Set Construction: Jeff Nesmeyer
- Assisted by: Ron Field, Robert Kraus, Susie Poole, Dick Schwab, Bob Spivey and Cal Whitehurst
- Set Painting: Erin Cumbo
- Assisted by: Michele Bell, Chanda Brown, and Julia Harrison
- Properties and Set Dressing: Donna Reynolds
- Master Electrician: Ari McSherry
- Assisted by: Julia Harrison, Robert Kraus, and Susie Poole
- Sound Design: David Correia
- Hair and Makeup Design: Kit Sibley
- Wardrobe Mistress: Nicole Zuchetto
- Assisted by: Maya Brettell, Rachel Alberts, and Annie Vroom
- Photographer: Ari McSherry
- Opening Night Party: Larry Grey
Disclaimer: Port City Playhouse provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/6218.
Laura & Mike Clark started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.