My Lord, What a Night
Orlando Shakes via Video on Demand
by Carl F. Gauze
Written by Deborah Brevoort
Directed by Kel Haney
Sometimes famous people do meet up and become friends. A good example might be Albert Einstein (Eric Zivot), the Jewish physicist who met the black singer Marion Anderson (Sheryll Carbonell) at his Princeton home. Einstein invites Anderson to spend the night in his spare room as Princeton society would be horrified were she to stay in one of their hotels. Horrification was the major past time for proper Princetonians in 1937. Anderson can perform at the hotel but she dare not stay in it. Soon Mary Churchill Terrel (Avis-Marie Barnes), another race activist, arrives to invite Marion to sing Washington D.C.. As this discussion builds, Einstein expresses concern for rising Nazism in America. Everybody on this stage is hated by someone, and never for any good reason. But each was a major creative force, and each lived a life of rejection. They all just have different takes on how to survive. Einstein’s handler Abe (J. D. Sutton) chose to keep a low profile and act as waspish as possible; he wants to shuffle Marion off to the “Colored YMCA.” Marion pushes back: “If I’m good enough fill a concert hall, why can’t I eat in the restaurant?” This tension takes us down the rabbit hole of racism and “outsiders” which dogs us to this day.
Zivot’ Einstein come over as an avuncular man who neither takes nor gives any bull. His direct physicist’s POV permeates all his decision, and he’s willing to take a stand against the system unlike his aid Abe. Abe pretends to assimilate, and while practically he may fit in, he’s always hiding the deep, dark secret. It’s also a rare heavy roll for Sutton; he’s usually the comic relief or downtrodden “Everyman” roles. Carbonell singing skills find a friendly platform here for her stunning vocals, and she’s just asking for the same love and applause she hears on stage when she stands on stage. Ms. Barnes displays both humor and power. I know here in real life and tonight she basically played her real self: A strong compassionate woman who brooks no BS.
Orlando Shakes has done a starring job with its video productions and this show is almost as good as sitting in the theater. A two camera shot keeps the POV interesting, and audio is clean. Since it’s video on demand you can back up a bit to catch missed lines, and the static picture box framing adapts well to the staging. I love there is no annoying “Rogue’s Gallery” of Zoom cells which I despise. Overall, its an excellent peek into history, and a look at a great friendship while showing live theater can be distributed electronically.