Dinner with Booker T.
Mad Cow Theater, Orlando, Florida
Created and performed by Darryl Reuben Hall
Review by Carl F. Gauze
About an hour before this show opened, my phone rang and the box office assured me the show would go on tonight. There’s plenty of drama outside the Mad Cow Theater this week, but I want to focus on the drama inside. About 20 fellow travelers arrived to witness a powerful one-man performance exploring the life and times of Booker T. Washington. Washington was born into a slave family just before the Civil War. Emancipation freed the slaves but did nothing to teach them how to prosper in this long sought blessing. When Booker was old enough, he discovered a school in need of a janitor. This school was run by “The fussiest White woman in the world.” Booker did a good job and picked up some education along the way. His attention to detail and perseverance took him far: he founded the Tuskegee Institute and grew it into the status of a major leaning institution. Here Booker set out to train other Black people to excel in a largely White world. He was both a friend and confidant to Teddy Roosevelt, infuriating Whites who couldn’t imagine anyone should treat a Black man as an equal.
This all occurs on the main stage at Mad Cow. Two podia, two projection systems, and a rather large set of props set the stage. Mr. Hall tells the story beautifully, playing both Booker and the broad spectrum of people he interacted with. It’s a story of making much of little, a story of perseverance, and story of seeing a better world and then building it. Washington created his own name, he slept under a sidewalk when he had no money, and he took a crumbling mansion and made it into a renowned school. Washington showed that Black people could not only do what Whites could do, but they could even surpass those achievements. This made him a pariah to many and a hero to others. But his story uplifts and inspires, and Mr. Hall captures the nuances of racism and sets them out to see and makes the vision entertaining and engaging.