September 10, 2001
ACT's 'Waiting' takes audiences on a memorable journey
by Deborah Stone
A Contemporary Theatre's 2001 mainstage season continues with S.M. Shephard-Massat's stirring and humorous civil rights drama, "Waiting to be Invited," directed by Israel Hicks. Based on real-life experiences, the play pays tribute to Shephard-Massat's grandmother and the many other civil rights activists whose courage and actions behind the scenes helped changed the course of history.
It is a sweltering hot Atlanta day in 1961 when three middle-aged black employees of a doll manufacturing company set off to assert their new found rights (following the Supreme Court's desegregation rulings) by having lunch at a "whites only" restaurant in a local department store.
Dressed in their Sunday best, wearing crisp white dresses with white gloves, white hats and accompanying white pocketbooks, Miss Louise (Demene E. Hall), Miss Odessa (Ebony Jo-Ann) and Miss Delores (Cynthia Jones) embark on a bus ride downtown to enter a department store cafe where they've never been welcome, not knowing if their presence will result in being spit upon, beaten, poisoned or jailed.
Playwright Shephard-Massat chooses to focus on the preparations leading up to the women's actions, rather than the protest itself. She centers her story on the women and their internal conflicts as they alternate between states of courage and hesitation, questioning their impending actions and confronting their fears. These women are tough-minded and sharp-tongued, but full of humor and sincerity, as they banter among themselves and with their protective and wary bus driver, Palmeroy Bateman (Keith L. Hatten), on the ride to the restaurant.
Along the way, they encounter the Bible thumping Miss Grayson (Jane Welch), an elderly white woman whose righteousness and sense of superiority belies hidden bigotry.
Once they arrive at their destination, the women meet their friend, the black pastor's wife, Miss Ruth (Michele Shay), who raises questions and doubts about the group's decision, painting an ugly picture of the violent repercussions that could result from their actions.
"Waiting to be Invited" is a play about convictions and following through on one's beliefs even when the outcome is a scary unknown. It is a tribute to all the unsung heroes, who bravely stepped up to participate in an important part of our nation's history.
With a talented, finely tuned cast of actors, who give life and credibility to their characters, a creative turntable set by Bill Curley and wonderful sound effects by bassist Reuben Radding and percussionist Brian Kirk, "Waiting to be Invited" takes audiences on a poignant journey.