Common Ground Theatre Celebrates Late Playwright Douglas Turner Ward
'Day of Absence' available online through Sunday
Common Ground Theatre's mission is “to produce classics and new works by and about people of African descent.” This weekend it showcases "Day of Absence" by Douglas Turner Ward, who died last Saturday.
Ward's "Day of Absence" is a satire about an imaginary Southern town where all the Black people disappear for a day and their absence wreaks havoc for the white community. John, played by Leon Alexander Matthews, wakes up to find his Black maid missing.
"Walked up to the shack, knocked on the door. Didn't get no answer, holler, Lola. Lola, not a thing went around the side in the window, nobody stirred next door or nobody ever crossed over the side of the street. By noon, five, six, all the doors, not a colored person could be found. Not a man, either woman or child, not even a black dog could be seen, smelled or heard for blocks around," says the character of John to his wife early in the play.
The premise is similar to the book and film "A City Without Jews" (from the 1920s) and the film "A Day Without A Mexican" (2004). All three suggest what a world would be like without a particular group of people.
In a reversal of the old minstrel shows, the Black actors for "Day of Absence" are instructed by Ward to perform in whiteface to play the white characters.
Matthews said those minstrel shows "had the white males dressing in blackface or charcoal face and doing comedy skits, buffoonery, if you will, about African-Americans, about Blacks in the towns or the Blacks growing up back then. And so this is a reversal of that. We're all in white face and we're portraying our white counterparts."
Ward’s death has tinged the show with sadness but the production pays tribute to the playwright’s ability to tackle issues that still resonate today.
"Even though it was written back in 1965, it is so relevant to what is going on in 2021," Matthews said. "By then we thought racism and just the way that America thinks and the way America processes things, we thought by now it should be, men and women of any color or race or background or religion should be on equal ground, but they're not. So it's a great honor to be a part of this production."
"Day of Absence" is available online this Friday through Sunday only through Common Ground Theatre’s website. It is a pay-what-you-can production.