Ring of truth
Knock Me a Kiss
Sacramento, CA 95819
Harlem in the ’20s: Jazz set the beat for a black renaissance; art, poetry, prose and philosophy all flourished. The artists and intellectuals were still blacks in a white-run world, but there were stirrings—a new riff over old rhythms.
Sociologist, historian and author W.E.B. Du Bois spearheaded a Pan-African awareness movement that stressed the role of an intellectual elite in the struggle for black equality. He surrounded himself with the best and brightest that his race had to offer, paragons of accomplishment during a period in which African-Americans suffered under Jim Crow in the South and segregation in the North.
Playwright Charles Smith’s Knock Me a Kiss weaves a tale of Du Bois and his circle like a sad, sinewy sax solo, played over a tale of sex, society, politics and deception. Although the opening-night performance had too many long pauses between scenes to sustain a satisfying rhythm, those slow scene changes will surely speed up with additional performances. Otherwise, Celebration Arts’ artistic director James Wheatley succeeds admirably at directing an ensemble cast which delivers solid performances.
Jerrold Jones stars as Du Bois, and he is as measured and studied and as at-home in a dress shirt and spiffy bow tie as the dandy W.E.B. himself. Imani Mitchell is sexy and smart as daughter Yolande Du Bois, torn between the smart marriage choice—high-profile poet Countee Cullen (James Townsend, believably amenable to Du Bois’ wishes but unable to sever his “close friendship” with Harold Jackman, a well-known figure among Harlem’s gay elite)—and the fun one, band leader Jimmy Lunceford (DeAngelo Mack, full of primal energy and stage savvy). Mardres Story is restrained as Nina Du Bois, the submissive wife (Du Bois had a way of conferring upon her position rather than personhood), and Shauntel Smith makes her debut as Yolande’s friend, Lenora.
That nothing turns out quite as expected only gives this fictionalized tale the ring of truth about life among the thinking class in tumultuous times.