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Paulanne Simmons

Dr. DuBois and Miss Ovington

A scene from Woodie King Jr's New Federal Theatre production of Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington starring Kathleen Chalfant and Timothy Simonson. Photo Credit: Ronald L. Glassman

Dr. DuBois and Miss Ovington
Directed by Gabrielle L. Kurlander
Castillo Theatre
453 West 42 Street
Opened Jan. 30, 2014
Fri.- Sat. 7:30pm, Sun 2pm
Tickets: $25 212-941-5800
Closes Feb. 16, 2014
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Jan. 24, 2014

"Dr. DuBois And Miss Ovington": the Meeting of Two Great Minds

Most people know W.E.B. DuBois as a civil rights activist and co-founder of the N.A.A.C.P. In "Dr. DuBois and Miss Ovington," playwright Clare Coss presents another side of DuBois: his emotionally charged relationship with Mary White Ovington, a socialist, feminist, pacifist and suffragist who fought alongside DuBois and was one of his strongest champions.

"Dr. DuBois and Miss Ovington" is set on the eve of World War I. President Woodrow Wilson, however, is not so involved in international affairs that he has not found time to reinforce segregation in Washington. But DuBois has more personal problems. The board of the N.A.A.C.P. is not happy with some of his more radical words and deeds, and DuBois is considering resigning, something his colleague, Miss Ovington, strongly opposes.

The entire play, which is set in a Manhattan office building, unrolls as a conversation between Ovington and DuBois. This gives director Gabrielle L. Kurlander the difficult job of keeping the play moving and establishing dramatic conflict. Coss has provided some action. DuBois and Ovington walk in and out of each others' offices. They are at their typewriters or dictaphones. Eggs are thrown into the office. But none of this seems especially essential to the play.

Kurlander's job, however, is made somewhat easier by the luminous presence of Kathleen Chalfant, who plays Miss Ovington. Chalfant makes Ovington flirtatious and feminine and at the same time strong and defiant. If Ovington is clearly attracted to DuBois and race does not present a barrier, at the same time, she does not want to be an appendage to a great man.

Timothy Simonson does a credible job as DuBois, if you are willing to believe that anyone could be as stiff, uptight and self-righteous as Simonson makes him. Even more's the wonder that such a man is able to attract a multitude of women.

Despite Chalfant's best efforts "Dr. DuBois and Miss Ovington" is too often didactic and too seldom dramatic. It does present many facts about the times and the condition of black people at that time. And it does give insight into these two historical figures. But that could have been done this in much less than 90 minutes.



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