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.
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 PegasusTheatreChicago.org.
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