Green Book gives historic look at Southern racism and bigotry

Highly Recommended

Once upon a time, there was a historic traveler’s guide called the “The Negro Motorist Green Book” that directed blacks traveling through the South to homes, restaurants and gas stations that were a safe haven.

For blacks traveling during the days of Jim Crow laws and segregation, the Green Book was a lifesaver, telling them where they could enjoy true southern hospitality in comfort and safety.

It was the hope of “The Green Book” founder Victor Green that one day his book would no longer be needed.

Now comes the play, “The Green Book” from playwright Calvin A. Ramsey that brings racism front and center to the stage. The multi-talented Ramsey co-authored the award-winning “Ruth and the Green Book,” written numerous other works and does photography and painting.

This play is an homage to the famous guide, published from 1936-1967.

It centers on the Davis family of Jefferson City, Missouri, an African-American family who opened their home to black travelers before the birth of Civil Rights activism.

(Lto R) Terence Sims (Capt. George Smith), Stacie Doubin (Barbara), Henri Watkins (Dan) and Quenna Lene (Jacqueline Smith) in The Green Book from Pegasus Theatre Chicago and ShPleL Performing Identity.
(Lto R) Terence Sims (Capt. George Smith), Stacie Doubin (Barbara), Henri Watkins (Dan) and Quenna Lene (Jacqueline Smith) in The Green Book from Pegasus Theatre Chicago and ShPleL Performing Identity.

The couple, Barbara and Dan, are highly educated; he a lawyer and she a college librarian. Their daughter, Neena, is soon to graduate high school and off to college, far from home.

“The Green Book” is set in the mid 1950’s as the Davises are celebrating the arrival of the prominent Dr. W.E.B. DuBois for a lecture.

The appearance of a  Jewish Holocaust survivor sets off a chain of events that showcases the prevalence of racism and anti-Semitism in the U.S.

Unfortunately, Jews who survived the Holocaust in Europe came to the U.S. and continued to face intolerance, fear and hatred.  Because of the similarities, alliances were formed between the Jewish people and African-Americans. Both were subjected to prejudice, the “red scare” of McCarthyism and restrictions from signs that said, “No Blacks, No Jews, No Dogs.”

Stacie Doublin as Barbara Davis and Henri Watkins as Dan Davis are outstanding. They convey their characters as believable and sincere. They struggle with their daughter, Demetra Drayton as Neena, who serves as their brightest hope for the next generation. She is excellent as the young girl who varies her position as the real truths begin to emerge.

But Malcom Banks who gives a powerful performance as Keith Chenault, the Yankee from Harlem with big, misplaced ideas, is a powerful force that must be reckoned with.

Michael Stock as Jake Levinsky does an outstanding job as he recalls the horrors of the camps and losing his family. His pain is real and raw. The ensemble comes together to tell a story that resonates with today’s headlines of bigotry and hate.

The play is wonderfully directed by Producing Artistic Director Ilesa Duncan. Mention must also be made of the glorious costumes by Uriel Gomez, who dresses all of the characters in handsome 1950s attire that is both authentic and mesmerizing.

DETAILS:  “The Green Book” is at the Pegasus’s resident home, Chicago Dramatists, 765 N. Aberdeen, Chicago, in conjunction with ShPIeL  Performing Identity, now through April 1,  Running time: just over two hours with intermission. For tickets and other information visit

Mira Temkin

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Dance with your heart, joy and stars


Think creative and experimental when considering the world premiere now at Chicago Dramatists. After all, how many, if any, theatrical productions have a box of stuffed animals, a marriage under duress, touching heartache peppered with clever comedy, toys that come alive as they interact with each other, eclectic music and wild dancing?

They add up to Jayme McGhan’s ‘Still Dance the Stars’ which serves up drama but with a good helping of comedy.

Martel Manning (James) and Ariana Sepulveda (Hope) in 'Still Dance the Stars' at Chicago Dramatists. Tom McGrath photo
Martel Manning (James) and Ariana Sepulveda (Hope) in ‘Still Dance the Stars’ at Chicago Dramatists. Tom McGrath photo

“The third time is the charm,” says Anne as she recalls turning down husband Jame’s first two proposals of marriage.

When he proposes to her a third time at a carnival with a little help from family, friends, music, and dancing, Anne accepts. An entertaining tape of the successful proposal goes viral on you-tube, attracting national attention along with unexpected pressures.

Fast forward six years.  Now the couple is preparing for yet another nationally-televised tell-us –about-your-bliss interview.

The timing is off, however, as their financial woes and personal loss play out across their marital battlefield.

The evening before their interview one drink leads to many others while James opens their box of stuffed animals. The toys grow to human size and proceed to both challenge and comfort the marriage as they begin to resemble family members.

Soon, a fantastical menagerie is stealing the stage: a child as a hippo, the mother-in-law as a giraffe, the father-in-law as a crocodile, a boyfriend as a potato, and others.

The heartache that the couple has endured comes to a peak near the end of the play.  I smiled through my tears at its touching pathos and clever humor, imaginative staging and colorful characters.

I also rocked in my seat to the beat of the music and laughed at the frenzied dancing of the stuffed animals that came to life—life being the essence of ‘Still Dance the Stars,’ especially as celebrated when one character says to another, “You’re my heart, my joy, my star!”

McGahn’s wonderfully unique production is a charming and clever testimony to love and loss and is imaginatively directed by Sarah Norris.

The talented cast includes Martel Manning and Kaycee Jordan of Chicago, Bethany Geraghty, Courtney Knysch, Claudia Campbell, Michael Aguirre, Carl Jaynes, and Dana Martin of NYC and Ariana Sepulveda, Philadelphia.

DETAILS: ‘Still Dance the Stars’ is at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave. now through Sept. 16. For tickets visit BrownPaper.

-Francine Pappadis Friedman