There’s an almost
reverential tone pervading the current Prime Stage Theatre production at the
New Hazlett Theater on Pittsburgh’s North Side.
The cast of mostly
Black American actors respectfully retell the tale of Civil Rights activist,
Rosa Parks, and her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The title character,
after all, is considered a genuine heroine by many for her refusal to give up
her seat to a White passenger on a bus, thereby setting off the mechanisms that
would end segregation in Montgomery’s transportation system and elsewhere.
The date was
December 1, 1955, when, following a day working as a seamstress in a local
department store, Parks was arrested for violating a local segregation
ordinance. While others before her had experienced the same chain of events,
Parks seemed the perfect candidate by local civil rights leaders to test the
legality of civic and state discriminatory laws.
As a protest to
her treatment and the long-standing mistreatment of other African-Americans on
the city’s bus lines, organizers responded by suggesting a bus boycott by Black riders, who constituted as much as 75 percent of the bus
ridership. The one day boycott proved so successful it continued for another
381 days, severely impacting the bus line’s finances.
In Prime Stage’s
production of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the play reveals
Parks’ role in organizing and sustaining the boycott, which organizers
preferred to call a protest.
The drama by
playwright Sue Greenberg reveals many personal details in Rosa’s valiant
determination to persevere. The audience sees the toll the boycott had on
Park’s personal life, the barrage of hateful phone calls and death threats, the
loss of her and her husband’s jobs, the bombing outside her home and church as
well as that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s home, who the playwright introduces as
a 25-year-old, newly arrived minister of the Dexter Baptist Church in
Montgomery and president of the boycott organization titled the Montgomery
|The Cast of Rosa Parks Chelsea Davis as Rosa is seated in center. Credit: Lura Slovesko
In the title role,
Chelsea Davis not only bears a remarkable resemblance to Parks, arrested at the
age of 42, but also captures the essence of the role. She’s calm and
levelheaded in her defiance of her unjust treatment and fights off her personal
demons with a almost saintly serenity as the White community begins reacting
trenchantly to the boycott. Davis shows Parks as intelligent and gentle and a
firm advocate of the doctrine of non-violence, but one with grit and moxie.
Support of her
cause comes from Edgar Nixon (Nick Page), president of the Montgomery chapter
of the NAACP and leader of the Pullman Porters Union. Page is both charming and
savvy as he helps navigate the turbulent waters associated by the boycott. At
first, a somewhat reluctant firebrand, Jake Moon as Dr. King, Jr. shows off the
latter’s oratory skills by delivering an impressively passionate speech at the
Dexter Baptist Church to the Black community who’ve assembled in response to
the city’s humiliating segregation ordinances.
|Jake Moon as Rev King giving a speech at the Dexter Baptist Church Credit: Laura Slovesko
As Rosa’s own
pastor, Ken Lutz is asked to play several other roles as well, including the
town’s mayor, bus driver and more and makes amazingly facile transformations
from one to the other.
actress asked to step into multiple guises, Cynthia Dallas can transform from a
youthful council woman to a spunky elderly matron who threatens to brandish her
cane as a weapon when needed in the blink of an eye and the donning of a knit
shawl. In other multiple roles, Ameriah Fisher adds flourishes of youthful
enthusiasm to the drama.
definitely not least, Rebecca L. Godlove seems to relish her role as Parks’
friend and political ally, bringing flashes of humor to her role as a
stalwart civil rights advocate, who jeopardizes her standing in the White
community by her support of the boycott.
the drama are several familiar rousing and poignantly appropriate songs in
which the audience can clap and sing along as they see fit.
Set designer, Alex
Kepler, goes minimalist aptly filling the stage with a series of chairs
arranged to resemble those on a bus and adds bits of household furniture in
another area of the stage to suggest the Parks’ home. Be sure to take note of
the 1950s-style bus seat on the set on loan from the Pennsylvania Trolley Music
in Washington, Pa., the production’s promotional partner.
Keeping the cast
in perfect harmony and at a comfortable tempo or pace is director, Linda
Haston, who wields a conductor’s baton (if I’m allow that simile) that gives
the production a sometimes moody, sometimes jubilant, sometimes hopeful but
always reverential tone.
Following on the
heels of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and preceding February as
Black History month, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott is both timely,
informative and very entertaining. The play runs about 75 minutes at the New
Hazlett Theatre, Six Allegheny Square East, on Pittsburgh’s North Side. Through
January 28. For tickets, log on to prime stage.com.