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Revived Civil Rights Era play makes black people (and social order) vanish from Southern town


Douglas Turner Ward’s play “Day of Absence,” premiering in 1965, fantasizes about the chaos that ensues in a small Southern town after all of the people of color mysteriously vanish. Described as a “satirical fantasy” and “reverse minstrel play,” “Day of Absence” has been revived by the company and is currently on view at Theater 80 St. Marks. While the play’s premise seems a little on the overt side, the post-election trauma timing seems impeccable. Read Alexis Soloski’s review in partial below, in full via New York Times.

What would the world look like if everyone that Donald J. Trump had ever disdained — the Mexicans and the Muslims, the nasty women and the failing journalists — vanished? How would a morning unfold if Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” suddenly turned up empty? If those we look down on disappeared overnight, how would we go on?

That’s the question posed by Douglas Turner Ward’s “Day of Absence,” a “satirical fantasy” that kicked off the pioneering Negro Ensemble Company in 1965. Fifty-one years later, the company has revived it in a feisty, slapdash production at Theater 80 St. Marks, featuring several cast members who starred in the original version.

In “Day of Absence,” the white residents of a Southern town wake to find all the black people gone. As shoes go unshined and babies unfed, the municipality devolves into chaos. It isn’t long before even the segregationist mayor is begging: “I’ll be kneeling in the middle of Dixie Avenue to kiss the first shoe of the first one ’a you to show up. I’ll smooch any other spot you request. Erase this nightmare ’n’ we’ll concede any demand you make, just come on back — please?”

*Image: From left, Cecilia Antoinette, Jay Ward, Charles Weldon and Chauncey DeLeon Gilbert in “Day of Absence.” Credit Jonathan Slaff via New York Times