Review: THE GREEN BOOK at Pegasus Theatre Chicago, in association with ShPIeL Performing Identity

Review: THE GREEN BOOK at Pegasus Theatre Chicago, in association with ShPIeL Performing Identity

(L to R) Malcom Banks and Terence Sims | Emily Schwartz

By Naima Dawson

To think, it has only been 54 years since the abolishment of the Jim Crow laws, yet in 2018 many Black and Brown people still do not feel safe traveling to certain communities, cities, and businesses without fearing for their life. Jim Crow is still perched upon the shoulder of America’s Bald Eagle.

During the height of segregation, a Harlem postal worker by the name of Victor Hugo Green created a booklet called the Negro Motorist Green Book. The Green Book was designed to help traveling Black people find doctors, entertainment, restaurants, and homes for lodging in an effort to avoid areas where they were not welcomed.

Playwright Calvin A. Ramsey’s THE GREEN BOOK takes us into the home of the Davis family, where principles are questioned and cultural bonds are tested.

The Davis family is a progressive Black family whose home is located on the campus of Lincoln University in Missouri. Their address is marked as a lodging stop in the Green Book for Black travelers looking for a safe place to rest. On this occasion, the Davis family welcomes Captain George Smith (Terence Sims), his wife Jacqueline Smith (Quenna Lené), a salesman for the Green Book, Keith Chenault (Malcom Banks) to their home.

Much of the play is spirited around how these static relationships collide with Chenault. Keith is an aggressive salesman who sees financial opportunity in segregation. His enthusiasm runs into a snag when he makes a business deal that raises questions about his integrity and his loyalty to his own race.

The house becomes unbalanced with the arrival of Jacob Levinsky (Michael Stock), who at first sight seems to be every bit of White, which means he can lodge at any place of his choice. His presence in the house is met with hostility by Keith, who cannot understand why a White man needs to seek refuge in a Black home. It’s eventually revealed that Jacob is a Jewish Holocaust survivor. Jacob gives Keith a history lesson into the Holocaust and the parallels between his experience and slavery.

Blacks and Jews during the Civil Rights Movement had an alliance — often regulated together by signs such as “No Blacks, No Jews, No Dogs!” Eventually, however, many Jews abandoned Blacks to integrate with Whites for an easier life.

THE GREEN BOOK, under the Direction of Ilesa Duncan, is full of exceptional teaching moments. The relationships between the characters need to be further explored, but it’s a timely piece that creates a necessary dialogue about history, and it will encourage people to research innovative aptitude of Blacks to co-exist within the constraints of America’s “free world.”

About author

Naima Dawson

Naima Dawson is a published author, Chicago playwright, and professor. Her career accomplishments cover more than 20 years in Arts Entertainment. Her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago and her Master of Education from DePaul University solidifies her ability to bridge the two worlds between Arts and Education. She is the writer and producer of Your Call! Late Night Improv & Sketch Comedy for Grown Folks, as seen in production at the Apollo Theater and The Mercury Theater.