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.
By FRANK EPISALE
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
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.
|MISS EVERS' BOYS|
|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
Broadway at 76th Street
Previews start: March 6, 2002
March 13 - April 14, 2002
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.
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.
|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.|| |
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|
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