Day Of Absence: Where Absenteeism Don’t Apply
The Day of Absence debut in 1965, during turbulent times as America was still embattled with polarization between whites and blacks over issues like the voting rights act, and the Selma to Montgomery march when Alabama State troopers attacked civil-rights demonstrators outside of Selma, Alabama, on a Bloody Sunday. Playwright, actor, and director Douglas Turner Ward, who was also the artistic director of the Negro Ensemble Company, wrote the two-part play Happy Ending: And, Day of Absence featured by The Congo Theater at Victory Garden Theater.
Performed at Victory Gardens Theater, Congo Square Theatre presents Ward’s Day of Absence, directed by Anthony Irons. Day of Absence is a play where depending on the ethnicity of the audience, the perspective alters. For the white audience, it pierces the soul of historical racism that many today dismiss as stereotypical feelings unresolved from the past.
For the African-Americans in the audience, it’s a reminder of the past, and present hatred and discrimination we faced daily and a way to bring attention to this unsettling doubt whites believe about racism.
The question isn’t whether there is any humor in this play, because Day of Absence is disturbingly humorist. It can be hard to see images of hate translated into something you can now joyfully poke and ridicule. The real question is whether through the humor will white America see the pain that people of color had to endure from their racist viewpoints.
DOA is a one day story, where all the people of color disappear from a Southern town. Clueless to why this strange occurrence is happening, two white men named Lou and Chem, who are talking, looking, and greeting people coming into the store, recognizes this phenomenon and are perplexed.
The satire in DOA takes a very sharp poke at white privileges and makes references to their inability to function without the support of people of color. Scenes where whites parents are unable to quiet their crying child without the help of Keke, the child’s caregiver. Or when Lou and Clem make comments about how a black female hair changes its length from one day to the next.
Then a major crisis breaks out when the white Mayor and its white staff members realize that all of the people of color have disappeared and the terrified outcry from the entire town, seeking law enforcement to bring them back once found. When that doesn’t work, the Mayor plays the “blacks love me” card and goes on local television to rally the absent people to return.
Ann Joseph, as the Mayor, -is funny, and she delivers a touching, albeit racist speech to the absentees—including comparing her love for the blacks with the memory of her black caregiver “Mam-nanny.”
Ward’s Day of Absence features people of color, which were all blacks during the original production in white face. This reverse minstrel-show brilliantly delivers a message to the world that this symptomatic type of bigotry is unacceptable.
DOA has a plethora of exceptional actors. Kelvin Roston, Jr. Sonya Madrigal, Bryant Hayes, Jordan Arredondo, and Meagan Dilworth. However, we had to call out the fantastic performance of Ronald L Conner duel role and Luke and Jackson.
Day Of Absence was brave for taking daggers regarding white people who can’t drive themselves, can’t care for their children, or throw out their garbage, bringing attention to the ugliness of racism with a peal of laughter. The message of a day of absence remains prevalent even today. Director Anthony Irons satire’s message of propaganda is refreshing and comical. Irons updated some of the negative references, slurs, slang, and terminology used today to describe ethnic groups while also making fun of ICE and Trump. Signs with a two-fold meaning like, “COME BACK AND WE’LL STOP,” as it turned, providing its real connotations, “AND FRISK.”
DOA attempt to show the hatred of racism, trying to make whites feel embarrassed with the history of their past; however, I’m sure most walked out more angered than uncomfortable, which blacks would reply; welcome to our world.
Let’s Play recommends Congo Square Theatre, Day of Absence at Victory Gardens Theater.
Congo Square Theatre at Victory Gardens
Day Of Absence
Written by Douglas Turner Ward
Directed by Anthony Irons
February 27 – March 22, 2020