Nicole Burton’s “Wednesdays in Mississippi” depicts a snapshot of the Civil Rights movement as experienced by a group of women from northern regions of the country who traveled to cities and towns across Mississippi during the mid-1960s. Based on the award-winning book by Debbie Z. Harwell, their mission was to “build bridges of understanding” and, in this way, try to mitigate the racial violence and palpable hate that existed in pockets of the Mississippi region. Spearheaded by Dorothy Height and Polly Cowan, the efforts of this diverse crew of women helped fortify the area’s Freedom Schools and were instrumental in empowering otherwise stifled Southern voices.
…a strong cast…sharing a very important story about women who tirelessly fought for equality during a very turbulent time in our country.
The play, produced by Pipeline Playwrights, does a very good job of introducing audiences to this lesser-known contingent of the Civil Rights movement. With a strong cast taking on multiple roles as they portray the various teams of volunteers going into Mississippi, Burton’s play gives us glimpses into the historical tragedy that was Jim Crow, racism, and the violence that permeated the landscape in certain sections of the country during this period. One could argue that not a lot has changed also making this, in many ways, a timely play.
The story follows the efforts of the organization—so-named Wednesdays in Mississippi in light of how their visits were timed and mapped out—as they encounter hostility and face barrier after barrier. Waitresses refused the Black members of the group service; doors were slammed in their faces; and politicians intervened in deliberately damaging ways. Then there is the tragedy of the three male students, all activists who disappeared and whose bodies were later found—an event that briefly shakes the women’s resolve.
History runs deep in this play. References to political and cultural moments, groups, and events underline the critical nature of what “Wednesdays in Mississippi” is trying to do. However, the factual past seems to consume this play at times. The production itself suffers a bit under the burden of its own history. That is to say, while Burton’s vision is certainly an inspirational one, that vision is almost solely a function of historical tableaus. The characters themselves tend to get lost in the theatrical shuffle. While definitely edifying and interesting, these tableaus can, at times, make for a rather slow-moving production and a somewhat disjointed depiction of who this group is as a whole and also as individuals. I just wished we could have learned more about the women themselves.
The ensemble cast is on point and does their best to paint a realistic portrait of the women involved with the activist group. As Dorothy Height, Corisa Myers delivers a deeply felt performance made even more poignant by her warm and welcoming singing voice. Jacqueline Youm’s Doris Wilson offers a necessary comedic element while also convincingly capturing the frustration and despondence of a Black woman trying to navigate the Jim Crow South during this time. As Prathia, Tiania Lockhart shines. Her vocals, her mannerisms, and her willingness to let loose and fluidly play to the moment imbue this production with the joy needed to emphasize the message and the hopefulness inherent in this group’s efforts.
James Raymond’s set design works quite well given the kind of scenic flexibility required. The play moves back and forth from DC to Mississippi and various locales therein. Lighting by Emily Pan and sound design by Janice Rivera help flesh out the experience. Rivera’s projection design is one of the most compelling elements of the production.
A big part of Pipeline Playwrights’ mission is to “create opportunities for women’s stories.” They’ve certainly done that with “Wednesdays in Mississippi.” I was excited to learn about this interracial activist group and to see a play featuring an all-female cast sharing a very important story about women who tirelessly fought for equality during a very turbulent time in our country.
Running time: Two hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.
“Wednesdays in Mississippi” runs through November 19, 2023, presented by Pipeline Playwrights at Joe’s Movement Emporium, 3309 Bunker Hill Road, Mt. Rainier, MD 20712. For more information and to purchase tickets, go online.