Seeing “Veils: The Musical” on stage at TheARC West Blackbox in Southeast, brought this writer to tears — also motivating me to ramp up my own efforts as a journalist of the Black Press where we share the best about a people whose history, sacrifices and contributions to America more often remain maligned.
The production, presented by the District-based, Black-led and founded Restoration Stage, Inc., has been brought back by popular demand — just in for Black History Month — and continues through Feb. 23.
Fueled by stellar acting and scintillating vocal prowess, “Veils,” written by Steven A. Butler Jr. and directed by Courtney Baker-Oliver — the duo responsible for the company’s well-earned reputation as one of the best theatrical enterprises in the greater Washington area — serves as a testament to the women of the Civil Rights Movement.
Baker-Oliver and Butler also wrote the original songs for the musical.
The backdrop of the show takes us to the inner room of Sybrina Fulton, (played to perfection by Roz White and who later in the play portrays Myrlie Evers, wife of Medgar Evers), the mother of Trayvon Martin.
She’s lost in thought and overcome with grief as she prepares for her son’s funeral. After a painful discussion with her son’s father and her former husband, Tracy Martin, she’s visited by an African spirit who comes in the form of a woman named Yemaya (Desire’ DuBose) who takes her on a journey during which she’s allowed to overhear the travails of women who have become integral to the story of America’s Civil Rights Movement.
If I had to be visited by a spirit, Desire’ would be my choice — not only because of her beauty but more due to the way she embodied the aura of one who, after suffering her own personal tragedy as a mother whose children would be stolen away from their homeland of Africa and sold into slavery, now serves as an erstwhile agent of the “eternal Spirit.”
These women, some more known in the annals of history than others and from among a list too long for this report, include heroines from Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer and Viola Liuzzo, to Angela Davis, Mamie Till and Betty Shabazz.
Veteran actress Suli Myrie dons a role far different from any I’ve seen in her previous Restoration Stage performances as Josephine Baker, adding color and a few moments of laughter — something sorely needed given the overarching nature of the show’s darker and more emotional theme.
As mentioned earlier, the songs — some originally-penned while come from the canon of Civil Rights Movement classics — require voices that can handle their piercing lyrics and soaring arpeggios. Again, the cast handles the task with ease, particularly Corisa Myers who serves as an ensemble soloist as well as portraying Mamie Till, the mother of Emmett Till.
As four mothers of the quartet of little girls killed after a bomb exploded as they prepared for Sunday School at their Birmingham-based 16th Street Baptist Church find themselves choosing the last dresses their daughters will wear for their funerals, each says, “It has to be special,” many in the audience could be heard weeping aloud. I was among those who could not applaud the performance of the actors as I, too, found myself, paralyzed by sorrow.
Finally, the gradual transformation of Sybrina Fulton, as imagined and artfully penned by Butler, cannot be overstated.
As the senior editor for The Miami Times, I was the lead reporter and one of the first writers on the scene after Trayvon’s murder. I would walk with Sybrina, Tracy and their remaining son, as well as Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) and hundreds of mourners, ministers, activists and friends all of whom struggled to understand what had happened, why it could so easily occur and how the law could allow such vigilante tactics to allow a teenager to be hunted and killed with a jury finding the murderer “not guilty” of the crime.
Today, Sybrina has emerged as a new voice in the long legacy of women of the Civil Rights Movement. But in those first days, she was simply another Black mother whose child’s life had been suddenly snuffed out due to racial profiling, prejudice and ignorance.
DCMetroTheatreArts.com had this to say about the musical:
“The surprise is that with ‘Veils,” two such multitalented African-American young men have undertaken this profoundly womanist theme with such deep empathy and authentic respect. This, to my knowledge, is a first in theatre history.”
The reviewer’s summation could not be said any better nor more truthfully.
Go see, experience and witness “Veils: The Musical.” You’ll never be the same again.
For tickets, go to www.restorationstage.com or call 202-714-0646.