Fringe Review: W.E.B. DU BOIS: A Man For All Times

There are few Americans who made a greater contribution to the nation’s cultural, civic and intellectual life in the 20th century than William Edward Berghardt DuBois, who lived an extraordinary life, as well as a long one: A black man born just five years after the Emancipation Proclamation, he lived long enough to die in self-imposed exile in Ghana, Africa, on the eve of the March on Washington, and one year before the passage of the United States Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“W.E.B. DU BOIS: A Man For All Times” has a title that sounds as if it’s for children, and indeed it’s one of the accomplishment of this solo show written and directed by Alexa Kelly and starring Brian Richardson that it makes accessible both the man himself and some of his ideas. The creative team works to make the pioneering scholar and uncompromising activist come off as somebody you might want to have a drink with (a soda) — without sanding smooth the edges of his anger or his intellect.
And so Richardson as DuBois tells us he was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University. But the Massachusetts-born DuBois also describes his efforts before that to get a teaching job at a public school in Tennessee (where he had studied at Fisk University) with a mix of naïveté, levity, and shock at the brutal racism he had never before experienced. We hear explanations of his dissertation, of his concept of the double-consciousness of the Negro in America, and of how his “educate and agitate” ethos caused a public dispute with Booker T. Washington. But we also see DuBois donning a silly costume to make fun of the pompous Marcus Garvey and his Back to Africa movement. We get snippets of his important speeches – some academic, some protests — but we also hear about personal tragedies in Du Bois’s life (information I somehow doubt this sophisticated intellectual shared easily in real life.)
It’s hard to pack 95 years into 75 minutes, especially for a man who co-founded the N.A.A.C.P.; celebrated and helped promote the Harlem Renaissance through his writing as well as his editing of The Crisis magazine; was an early and influential proponent of Pan-Africanism, fighting to free African nations from colonialism; was indicted (and eventually acquitted) during the Red Scare of the 1950s. But “W.E.B. DuBois: A Man For All Times” manages to get at the highlights, and Brian Richardson’s protean performance helps us get at the man.WEBDUBOISAManForAllTimes16-4227

W.E.B. DuBois: A Man for All Times
64E4 Underground

Remaining show times
FRI 19 @ 3 || MON 22 @ 4:45 || WED 24 @ 9:30

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

Leave a Reply