Monday, January 27, 2003

Voice of Good Hope: The Words and Life of Barbara Jordan (Ensemble Theatre)

Barbara Jordan shortchanged at Ensemble

The late Barbara Jordan is one of my heros. If not for her illness and premature death, she may have been the first Black women to be nominated for a high national office. This was a woman of high spirit, intelligence and a clear mission of life who translated her background and yearnings into a national platform for civil rights and high values.

Unfortunately, VOICE OF GOOD HOPE: THE WORDS AND LIFE OF BARBARA JORDAN does little to help sell her greatness. This is a poorly written script which is given a shallow production at Ensemble Theatre.

The script is fragmented, jumping from time to time in Jordan’s life with little logical bridging. Though hinted at, we miss entire segments of her life where would see her rise to being a respected and national political power.

The production values are also lacking. The set, which consists of series of levels, is awkwardly designed, causing actors to constantly step up and down to get from place to place. This is very problematic in scenes in which Ms. Jordan is supposed to be suffering from knee and hip problems. Taped speeches of Richard Nixon and other notables in Jordan’s life are often difficult to understand.

Besides the technical problems, the acting levels are generally poor. It is the obligation of a director to work with her cast to insure that they both understand the meaning of their lines and can interpret the words to the audience. This is not the case in this production. Except for Mary Jane Nottage, as Jordan’s companion Nancy Earl, and James Seward as Jordan’s grandfather, the cast fails to perform effectively. Lines are often spoken as flat statements with little meaning. In addition, the stage movement are often ill-conceived. In a scene where Jordan is supposedly in physical pain she has been directed to constantly sit and stand.

Capsule judgment: It’s a shame that a great woman like Barbara Jordan has not been given a better rememberance.