Greensboro College Theatre is staging two powerfully important monologues that deserve to be on your calendar this weekend.
"Paul Robeson," the controversial play by the late Phillip Hayes Dean, stars Jahi Bogard as the titular actor, singer and activist, who raised such a ruckus for the rights of laborers and African-Americans that he was hauled in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1956 to offer a searing rebuke against fascism wherever he found it, at home or abroad. His deep bass baritone voice, so easily recognizable in signature standards such as “Ol’ Man River,” must have seemed like a tsunami to those senators who witnessed his testimony.
Although his tone is lighter, Bogard’s performance as Robeson is a remarkable study in nuance. He is hilarious and heartbreaking, energetic and empathetic, and as he tells Robeson’s incredible story, the politics of identity and humanity which set Robeson on fire for justice ring as true and as vital for a modern audience as they did for the man who refused to ignore the physical and psychological horrors of a pre-Civil Rights Act America.
Equally stirring is the more recent hit "The Tricky Part," an autobiographical play by Martin Moran, who is winningly portrayed by Lewis Elliot. Honest and affable, Elliot’s Moran walks the audience through the comic confusion of his Catholic school upbringing into the horror of his abuse at the hands of a camp counselor and would-be seminarian.
Elliot’s greatest accomplishment here is that even as Moran disconnects from the terrible things that have happened to him, trying to rediscover a solid foundation of faith, truth and love, Elliot’s connection to his audience never trembles. His Moran is there for us even when Moran has been set adrift in a sea of pain. The sincerity of his performance is shattering and deeply moving.
Both of these actors, Bogard and Elliot, turn in weighty, singular performances. They’re equally charming, and equally well-suited to their roles. In other hands, material this heavy could have made us cringe uncomfortably as terrible sins against humanity were hurled at us one after the other. But these actors — and their directors, Kirstin Wright and Ana Radulescu — deliver sensitive, transcendent performances that ought to be seen.
It goes without saying that "Robeson" and "The Tricky Part" deal with sensitive subjects, such as racism and sexual abuse, and audience discretion is advised, both in this review and during the curtain speech at the start of the performance.
However, if you believe you’re up to it, you really should make your way to Greensboro College to witness these remarkable shows before they close.