Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Play: Of Equal Measure: Highlights

Michole Briana White depicted above playing Jade the stenographer in the Wilson White House

"Of Equal Measure, Tanya Barfield's new civil rights-minded play set in Woodrow Wilson's White House," Center Theater Group

I just came back from seeing the new play titled Of Equal Measure written by Tanya Barfield*. The play focuses on a fictional stenographer named Jade who works for a Presidential Advisor of President Woodrow Wilson and specifically covers Wilson's second term in office when he prepares the country for WWI despite his earlier reservations. Although Wilson runs a progressive campaign while seeking office and promises to make the country a democracy for all including "Negroes". The play shows his hypocrisy as he supposedly becomes enamored with DW Griffith's technologically groundbreaking movie Birth of a Nation. . He also buys the message on some level and becomes convinced, according to the playwright, to support its allies by going to war enlisting both white and Black troops, the latter of which he neglects to the point, some of these soldiers freeze to death for lack of blankets and boots.(I need to check authenticity of this account as I suspect both white and Black froze to death in that awful War, although I am sure the Black soldiers were more neglected.) Going to war is also premised on the spectacular accusation that Germany plans to arm Mexican troops who will suppposedly enlist Negro men into its ranks to fight their own countrymen. This is a time when lynchings are occuring at an increasing rate which Wilson says he deplores but ends up doing nothing about it.

The historical accuracy and "facts" of some of these pronouncements are obvously made up but the basic ideas (& historical context) and parallels to G.W. Bush's reason for going into Iraq are clearly evident. Early on Wilson claims he likes Pancho Villa, becaue he want to free Mexico; however, by the end he is saying "he is a terrorist" Kill him". When confronted with the news that hundreds of wounded veterans with arms, legs, and eyes missing are camped outside the White House, he "freezes up" and can hardly get himself together until an aid says meeting with these men will do him some good. They will spin the story in Wilson's favor, make him look good by the fact he will greet the men. He wants to call the name of each one but is told there are just too many.

Jade, the stenographer, with much agonizing and remorse, "allows" her white boss, the one who works for Wilson, to seduce her in return for a job at the White House for her brother who is in danger of being hurt or killed at his other job. She also is forced to type a list of "Negroes" who work for the White House who the administration plans to force into "segregated" sections in the White House and later to be laid off. It is not clear she knows what she is doing. It all becomes clear in the end. There is also a white Catholic Irish man in The Play's White House who turns out to be an important character. I guess he represents "white conscience" and paralells in some ways Jade's experience.

I enjoyed Michole Briana White who played the stenographer. She is a naturally good actor and you don't notice she is acting. The actor, Lawrence Pressman plays Woodrow Wilson. Pressman is a familiar face who conveys Wilson as a person with strength, an effete nature, and much egomania. He would also make a great Franklin Rooselvelt as he looks like him. It wouldn't take much to extend the personality to FDR though FDR was a much more effective President but not necessarily brighter than Wilson. It all goes to show, brains don't alway make much difference, the heart matters too.

Kirk Douglas Theatre 
downtown Culver City
9820 Washington Blvd. 
Culver City, CA 90232 
Directions and Parking
description below taken from Center Theater Group Ad

With the nation on the brink of World War I, one woman's personal battle begins. A riveting new play from one of the theatre's rising stars. Europe is close to social and political crisis. Woodrow Wilson’s cabinet debates going to war and which side to take. At home, the administration’s segregationist policies contrast American democratic values—a fact not lost on Jade Kingston, an ambitious African-American stenographer employed in the White House, and her brother, Eugene, an aspiring artist with big dreams. As World War I rapidly approaches, Jade faces difficult choices that could compromise her career, challenge her spirit and threaten her own ideals of America’s duty to its citizens and its place as a world power.

*Tanya Barfield, playwright, go to

Written By
 Tanya Barfield

Directed by Leigh Silverman

JD Cullum
Dennis Cockrum
Scott Dawson
Michael Hyland
Joseph C. Phillips
Lawrence Pressman
T. Ryder Smith
Christopher O'neal Warren
Michael T. Weiss
Michole Briana White