This is a new play that sheds some light on the time when Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to the White House to have dinner — an unprecedented act in the early 20th century. There was a lot of political fallout from that event, as well as division among Blacks at the time. W.E. Dubois wanted to demand their rights while more moderates, such as Washington, believed in educating and trying to influence the white leaders.
This is a show with good bones …
While the premise is intriguing and the performances whole-heartedly done, the play itself feels a bit disjointed. We never really learn what Roosevelt and Washington spoke of at the dinner (there are vague references to Washington making recommendations for judges), or if his family or anyone else was present. We do hear about Washington’s discomfort when he was invited to dine with some white ladies on the train from Alabama to Washington, but I couldn’t quite tell if he actually was served in the dining car or not.
Gerrad Taylor as Washington, and Debora Crabbe as his wife, Margaret Washington, have a lovely chemistry. Muhammad Okedeyi as Dubois evinces the frustration of a Black man from the North who has little patience with the realities that shaped a Black man from the South.
Scott Abernethy plays a somewhat diffident Teddy Roosevelt. Nick Duckworth as Elihu Root, the Secretary of War/Secretary of State, is a hoot. Oddly enough, in this script, he almost seems like Roosevelt’s secretary, but he gets some of the best zingers of the play. So does Vince Eisenson as Senator Ben Tillman, who is the stand-in for the entire South. His Tillman is vile and unreprentedly racist. It’s a one-note role, but Eisenson manages it with aplomb, and a good sense of comedic timing.
“Torn” is written, directed, and filmed by John Becker. The costumes are nicely done, and the interiors of the Washington home, the White House, and Dubois’s study are elegantly period.
This is show with good bones. It just needs a little refining and refocusing to tell a stronger story.
Running Time: Approximately one hour without an intermission.
Show Advisory: Racist language. Suitable for mature teens and older.
“Torn” will be shown on February 20, 21, 27, and 28 at 7:00 p.m. in a virtual environment (or as they call it, a “StageFlick”), by AmaZing Theatre, Laytonsville, MD. For more information, please click here.