Passing Solo

This past Friday, “Passing Solo,” a one-woman show starring Nancy Cheryll Davis, was performed at 8 p.m. in Murphy Recital Hall. Originally put on in 1997 and revived this year by Towne Street Theatre, the production provided an important commentary on the challenges of living as a black woman in 1920s America. 

The one-woman show was adapted from the novella “Passing” by Nella Larsen. The production was directed by Nancy Renée and sound designed by Nathaniel Bellamy and Ken Cosby. Davis is the winner of the NAACP Best Actress award for her performance in the original version of “Passing” as well as being a critically acclaimed actress, director and producer. She is also one of the founders of Towne Street Theatre, Los Angeles’ premiere African American theatre company. 

The play opened up to the sound of a heart beating and a display of definitions of words that were integral to the theme, such as race and white-passing, on a screen onstage. The entire performance was seamlessly assisted by soundtracks and background visuals and was concerned mainly with the idea of passing as white. The setting was 1920s Harlem, where many places were segregated. Davis played both Irene Westover Redfield and Clare Kendry Bellew, two black women who were able to participate in societal gatherings reserved as white-only, due to their light-skinned appearance. The play addressed the implications of what it meant to pretend to be someone else in order to get ahead in an unfair racist society.

Davis impeccably differentiated the characters of fun-loving Clare, who married a white man who was under the impression she was white, and the more thoughtful Irene, who was internally struggling between wanting to remain friends with her childhood acquaintance Clare and not wanting to have to lie about who she was.

Before the show started, I had the chance to talk to some audience members about what brought them to the performance. Sam Johnston, a freshman undeclared major, was attending the event for a class and said he was “excited to see a great performance.” 

Ciara Rose Freeman, a freshman communication studies major was attending “in honor of Black History Month,” and because “it would be interesting to see how one woman can play multiple roles.”

The performance was co-sponsored by LMU’s College of Communication and Fine Arts, the English and African American Studies departments, the Office of Black Student Services and the Office of Ethnic and Intercultural Services. Because the on-campus event shared a specific story of black history, it was great to see some people showing up to learn.

Simeon Phillips, a senior marketing major said, “I know the play’s about black history, and I came to support it.” However, he was disappointed by the turnout and pointed out it was “unfair many events on campus were scheduled at the same time.” Phillips was referring to those who were unable to attend and missed an important opportunity to learn about black history.

Take advantage of opportunities like this one throughout Feburary, as well as through the rest of the year to learn about this history. During the post-show talkback session, Davis pointed out that these societal ideas and white washing are still a problematic reality of how “to be accepted in society” today. The performance was entertaining and thought provoking, and if you didn’t have a chance to see it you should check out the original novella, as suggested by Davis, as well as attending other events for Black History Month.

This is the opinion of Tygre Patchell-Evans, a freshman communications major from Victoria, Canada. Tweet comments to @LALoyolan or email comments to tmarom@theloyolan.com.

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