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    Miss Evers' Boys

    Disease and unease

    The good-time feeling of the ensemble in the passionate historical play "Miss Evers' Boys" is only a setup for the devastating deterioration of the same characters as the infamous Tuskegee experiments take their toll.


    After being nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and spending ten years in productions at major regional theatres, David Feldshuh's "Miss Evers' Boys" has made its long overdue New York debut with a near-flawless production by the Melting Pot Theatre Company. The mostly strong text occasionally slips into earnestness and self-importance, but this is more than made up for by the fluid direction, polished design and a superb cast — and by the genuinely important subject matter.

    Written by: David Feldshuh.
    Directed by: Kent Gash.
    Cast: Terry Alexander, J. Paul Boehmer. Chad L. Coleman, Helmar Augustus Cooper, Byron Easley, Daryl Edwards, Adriane Lenox..
    Set design by: Emily Beck.
    Costume design by: Earl Jerome Battle.
    Lighting design by: William H. Grany III.
    Sound design by: Abe Jacob.

    Related links: Official site
    McGinn-Cazale Theatre
    Broadway at 76th Street
    Previews start: March 6, 2002
    March 13 - April 14, 2002

    Suggested by actual events, "Miss Evers' Boys" is a fictionalized account of the "Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male", in which hundreds of poor black farmers were told they were being given free treatment for "bad blood," or syphilis. In actuality, they were being observed and studied, as the disease gradually ravaged their bodies and their minds. This continued even after the advent of penicillin, a low-risk and almost universally effective cure for syphilis.

    The first act is fast-paced and lighthearted, the strategy being to draw the audience in with a high-spirited group of charming men who spend their days farming and their nights "jellying," a kind of down-home tap-dancing to music played on washboards and basins. The dance numbers in the first act are expertly performed, bringing shouts and cheers from the audience. Of course when Willie, the young star of the group, can no longer dance in act two, these moments of joy become turn out to have been a set-up for a great sense of loss and tragedy.

    The multigenerational, ethnically diverse audience gave a standing ovation, many of them sniffing and wiping tears from their eyes. "Miss Evers' Boys" accomplishes the daunting task of educating while entertaining, and enlightening without preaching.  

    As played by Byron Easley, Willie is both sweet and cocky and his starry-eyed aspirations to dance in the Cotton Club are infectiously charming. His cohorts are clearly defined without devolving into caricature. Particularly strong are Helmar Augustus Cooper as the aging Ben and Chad L. Coleman as the skeptical and fast-talking Caleb. Adriane Lenox delivers an impressively layered portrayal of Nurse Eunice Evers, bringing out all of the moral complexity demanded by the role. While we never lose sight of her responsibility for her role in the scandal, the motivations for her actions are largely sympathetic and the audience isn't allowed to judge too easily or too harshly.

    Emily Beck's sets and William H. Grant's lights work together seamlessly to create an evocative atmosphere that walks a line between representational reality and stylized simplicity. Kent Gash takes full advantage of the talented cast and crew, as well as the opportunity to stage it all in a beautiful theater with uncommonly excellent sightlines. He encourages his actors to keep things moving and manages to get through the play's more self-indulgent moments with a minimum of self-righteous wallowing.

    The multigenerational, ethnically diverse audience at this particular performance gave a standing ovation, many of them sniffling and wiping tears from their eyes. The shameful subject matter, disturbingly resonant politically, is something about which all Americans should be made aware. "Miss Evers' Boys" accomplishes the daunting task of educating while entertaining, and enlightening without preaching. We're all responsible for paying attention to and taking responsibility for the actions of our government. This show isn't just civic duty, though — it's fun, too.

    MARCH 31, 2002

    Reader comments on Miss Evers' Boys:

  • [no subject]   from Fawks, Dec 7, 2005
  • miss evers boys   from maranda, Feb 13, 2006

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