Review: ‘Character Building’ during American Ensemble Theater

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There is something heart-stirring and moving about this new one-man musical. In between excerpts from stately hymns and spirituals, a good African American teacher and orator Booker T. Washington gives us a pep speak about how to live an honest life—exhorting us to lift ourselves up, to be productive, to be of service—thus a title, Character Building. 

Booker T. Washington final seemed on a internal theatre as a pivotal impression in Ragtime during Ford’s, formed on E. L Doctorow’s novel. Here all a difference are Washington’s own, unfiltered by anyone’s fiction, edited by Adapter/Director Martin Blank from spontaneous Friday night talks that Washington gave to groups of 18-year-old students during a propagandize he founded now famous as Tuskegee Institute.

This was not prolonged after Emancipation, and many of a students were former slaves. So historically we are distant private from those for whom a difference were creatively meant. Yet Washington’s difference are so expressive and obligatory they direct to be listened again today. They reason us and galvanize us a approach a stirring reverend can. It’s story though it’s right on time. Because given where a inhabitant care has newly been mired, attending to Character Building is a compensation and a relief. It’s like finding an ennobling reliable summary in a bottle that has been adrift in an degrading swamp.

Gregory Burgess as Booker T. Washington in Character Building. Photo by Kayla Mahood, Stone Photography.

On a upstage wall inside a tiny black box during Capital Hill Arts Workshop is projected a sketch of Booker T. Washington. It stays there throughout, a sign of a male we now get to accommodate in a friendly and commanding opening of Gregory Burgess.

At an honest piano theatre right sits Musical Director Scott Farquhar, whose rousing Overture samples from songs in a show. Wearing a pointy vested fit (by Costume Designer Kristina Lambdin), Burgess enters a theatre set simply with a essay desk, a chair, and celebration H2O on a tiny table. The gangling outcome achieved by Set Designer Halsey Taylor and Lighting Designer Jason Aufdem-Brinke suitably keeps Burgess a concentration of a attention.

Burgess has a devious wink in his eyes, even when he’s during his many earnest. And listening to his abounding baritone vocals is a pleasure. There are scarcely 20 low-pitched numbers in a 50-minute uncover so, do a math, they go by quickly—just prolonged adequate to reason us with such classics as “Nobody Knows a Trouble we See,” “Go Down Moses,” “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder,” “Shall We Gather during a River.” The mixed segues between oral and sung sections are rubbed with unusual grace, and Blank’s good juxtapositions of censure and low-pitched impulse are a revelation.

Unlike many a contemporary self-help guru who preaches self-involvement to a privileged, Washington offering students plain recommendation about success that still rings good and true. For instance,

In deliberation your time, today, this week, this month, have we finished your
best? we fear many of you, when we demeanour during your conscience, contingency answer
that we have not. There have been minutes, hours, days, that we have
completely thrown away. If we have not finished your best, true from your
heart, in all your work and in life, it is not too late to make amends.

Get reason of this idea: we can make a destiny usually what we wish to make it.
You can make it bright, happy, useful, if we learn this fundamental
lesson—it never pays to do any reduction than your really best. To succeed, live
good, honest lives by training how to do something unusually well.

Crucially Washington related success to use to others:

I call your courtesy to this fact: one thing is contingent for success upon
another; one particular contingent for success on another; one family in a
community on other families for their mutual prosperity. The same is true
in nature. One thing can't exist unless another exists—cannot succeed
without a success of something else.

Washington was innate a slave, lifted himself adult to get an education, and founded some-more than 3,000 schools for African-American children in a South—meaning he knew whereof he spoke. And via Burgess’s excellent performance, a passion in Washington’s goal comes by vividly in his each responsible phrase, his each correct word.

The uncover is dictated for both propagandize and adult audiences and simply builds a rapport with both. At one indicate during a opening we saw, Burgess sat on a stairs subsequent to a youngster and said, “You see? You see?” And he seemed to.

Music Director Scott Farquhar with Gregory Burgess as Booker T. Washington in Character Building. Photo by Kayla Mahood, Stone Photography.

For about a half-dozen low-pitched numbers, Burgess and Farquhar sing together. Musically this works, their voices mix well, it’s a nice change of pace. But it temporarily creates a uncover about dual guys dueting—one of whom we’ve gotten to know, a other we haven’t. Dramaturgically a pairing reads as a step out of impression for Washington and interrupts a smoothness of a rendezvous with him. In destiny productions (which we fervently titillate that there be), an onstage girl choir—giving voice to a tyro era Washington cared about and spoke to—could take this already mountainous uncover to even larger heights.

Character Building plays by Black History Month usually on Saturdays during 1:00 p.m., and seating is limited. As a melodramatic covenant to one of a many successful characters in Black History—and as a sign of what matters in a impression one calls one’s own—this absolute and impending low-pitched is a hugely rewarding experience.

Running Time: About 50 mins with no intermission.

Character Building plays Saturdays through Feb 24, 2018, at American Ensemble Theater behaving during Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (CHAW) – 545 7th Street, SE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, that are Pay What You Will, call CHAW 202-547-6830. (All deduction from sheet sales advantage CHAW and a fee assistance program, that allows low-income and homeless children a event to make art.)

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