A little less complaint and whining and a little
More dogged work and manly striving would
Do us more credit than a thousand civil rights.
Harlem in New York City was a vibrant time in American literature. The Harlem Renaissance boasts with pride about the literary giants that came from that era. Two of those titans were the highly educated W.E.B. Du Bois (Ben Guillory) and his protégé poet Countee Cullen (Jason Mimms). A peek into the private world of Du Bois, introduces the audience to his beautiful and intelligent daughter Yolande (wonderfully played by Toyin Moses). The heiress is dating her “friend” Jimmie Lunceford (Keir Thirus). Jimmie takes Yolande home after a night of high energetic dancing. The young bandleader has dreams of making it big in music like Cab Calloway. He fails miserable in romancing Yolande who insists on getting married and have a family before any fooling around can happen. Jimmie obliges in giving her the worst proposal in history. Even if the answer is yes, she wants her father’s opinion and blessing first.
Yolande accepted a teaching position in Missouri. She tells Jimmie that she wants “to help the down trodden and the less unfortunate.” In other words, she wants to become the female version of her great father. She and her mother Nina Du Bois (the great Rosie Lee Hooks) had a tumultuous relationship. She clearly favors her father’s company over her mother. Nina is a sweet woman but her constant interference with Yolande becomes annoying. Yolande enjoys the company of Countee (pronounced “Coun-tay,”) Cullen; it also helps that the elder Du Bois likes him. Cullen seduces Yolande with words. Cullen looks up to the scholar as a father figure who provides Cullen with unsolicited advice on women.
Du Bois instantly tells him to make a checklist of what he wants and does not want in a wife and pick the one with the most check marks. Quickly, Cullen proposes to Yolande who eventually accepts. Their wedding is the celebration of the century. Over 1,000 people were at the church that can only sit 500. After two years, the marriage begins to unravel.
She confides in her close girlfriend Lenora (the amusing Ashlee Olivia) that she “doesn’t feel like his wife. “He doesn’t touch me,” Yolande said. According to Yolande, she and Countee have “a modern marriage.” That is what she tells herself when she explains to her parents and Lenora why she will start teaching in Missouri in the fall while Countee will be in Paris accompanied by his friend Harold Jackman, known as the most handsome man in Harlem. Yolande quickly figures out that Jackman is more than a friend and feels trapped. She knows she must do something but does not know what to do. Whatever it is, no scandal can be involved that would embarrass her or her father.
Ben Guillory is simply amazing as Du Bois. He carries wit and charm with superb intelligence and a commandeering presence. Everything to Du Bois has a solution. There is nothing that cannot be fixed if you focus on the solution instead of the problem. He sees great potential in Cullen and wants his daughter to help nurture it.
As the lovelorn daughter, actress Moses provides vulnerability and strength to her character. She highly believes in romance, soft caresses and kisses that mean something and won’t settle for anything less. Long lasting love is what she urgently wants.
Ashlee Olivia is a crack-up as her best friend Lenora. She is feisty, smart and tells the truth when she sees it. She is a breath of fresh air that pumps joyous laughter in a messy situation. Her sass and class complements Yolande’s serious nature.
Playwright Charles Smith created a wonderful masterpiece of fiction. The Head of the Professional Playwriting Program in Ohio University, his plays deal with current issues of race and identity with a historical premise. The characters are based on real people but the situation is all from his creative brain.
“Knock Me a Kiss” should not be missed. Rush to see it!
“Knock Me a Kiss” plays until Sunday, May 4th. Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, located at 514 South Spring Street in Los Angeles. For ticket information, call (866) 811-4111 or reserve online at www.thelatc.org.