Review: Douglass (the american vicarious)

| July 26, 2016

De'Lon Grant and Carrie Lee Patterson in Douglass, the american vicarious          

Written by Thomas Klingenstein
at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
thru Aug 14  |  tix: $25   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Worthy, timely account of nation’s most revered abolitionist


De'Lon Grant in Douglass, the american vicarious 3

the american vicarious presents

Review by Mark Davidson

The american vicarious’ Douglass, a world-premiere drama by playwright Thomas Klingenstein, starts with a boom of evocative sound effects and black-and-white projections of historical photos amidst a background of flame. Escaped slave Frederick Douglass (De’Lon Grant) wishes to publish his own newspaper to further spread the word against slavery. He is supported by notable white abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison (Mark Ulrich), who frequently coaxes funding for his own paper from Miss West (Carrie Lee Patterson). Douglass is also aided by African-De'Lon Grant in Douglass, the american vicarious 2American writer Martin Robison Delany (Kenn E. Head), although Douglass disagrees with Delany’s view that blacks should abandon the United States and form their own country elsewhere. (Delany comes to this position when Harvard Medical School accepts him as a student, only to dismiss him a month later due to demands from white students.) Meanwhile, after Mr. Davis (John Lister) dismisses Douglass from his employ, his daughter Mary (Jess Berry) arranges for Douglass to work for a minister. Douglass only reluctantly accepts the work at the urging of his wife Anna (Kristin Ellis).

Eventually, Garrison urges Douglass to travel to Britain, to protect him from being recaptured by slavers. When Douglass returns, he is accompanied by Julia Griffiths (Saren Nofs Snyder), whose attempts to teach Anna proper grammar brings friction to the Douglass’ marriage. Douglass develops the opinion that the Constitution is an anti-slavery document, putting him in opposition to Garrison and Delany. Delany conspires with Garrison to defame Douglass’ character with rumors of his relationship with Julia. Finally, an outraged Garrison takes back his printing press from Douglass to end his newspaper. Still, Douglass refuses to be silenced.

Mark Ulrich and De'Lon Grant in Douglass, the american vicariousDe'Lon Grant and Kristin E. Ellis in Douglass, the american vicarious

The Douglass design team shines in this production – William Boles has designed an evocative set, allowing director Christopher McElroen to arrange the actors in a variety of visual tableaus, dramatically enhanced by lighting designer Becca Jeffords’ strategic use of both light and shadow, as well as the striking projections designed by Liviu Pasare. Sarah Espinoza’s sound design brings a vivid atmosphere to the proceedings.

Additionally, the performances are topnotch: Grant makes an impressive turn as Douglass, embuing the character with dignity and defiance. Head brings a passionate anger to the role of Delany, while Ulrich presents Garrison as a man of strong convictions which only partially mask his attitude of superiority over Douglass. Patterson ably portrays Miss West as a privileged lady whose condescension is always apparent in spite of her good intentions. Snyder plays Julia as an exotic woman, too ignorant to realize how much her presence angers Anna, a strident woman of common sense as realized by Ellis.

The only problem with the play is that it ends too abruptly. This critic was hoping to see a final reckoning of some sort between Douglass and Garrison, and was disappointed when it did not transpire. Nevertheless, this new work is a worthy account of the crusade of the most revered abolitionist in this country’s history.

Rating: ★★★½

Douglass continues through August 14th at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $25, and are available by phone (773-975-8150) or online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)

Jess Berry, Saren Nofs-Snyder, De'Lon Grant, Mark Ulrich and John Lister in Douglass, american vicarious

Photos by Evan Barr 




De’Lon Grant (Douglass), Kenn E. Head (Delany), John Lister (Mr. Davis), Mark Ulrich (Garrison), Carrie Lee Patterson (Miss West), Saren Nofs Snyder (Julia), Jess Berry (Mary), Kristin Ellis (Anna).

behind the scenes

Christopher McElroen (director), William Boles (scenic design), Mieka van Der Ploeg (costume design), Becca Jeffords (lighting design), Liviu Pasare (projection design), Sarah Espinoza (sound design), Jamie Abelson (casting director), Cara Parrish (stage manager), Will Bishop (production manager), Liam Fitzgerald (technical director), John Kelly (master electrician), Anthony Venturini (charge scenic artist), Lela Rosenberg (wardrobe supervisor), Coriander Mayer (lighting operator), Andi Crist and Northlight Theatre Scene Shop (scenic construction), Evan Barr (photos)

De'Lon Grant in Douglass, the american vicarious 1De'Lon Grant and Carrie Lee Patterson in Douglass, the american vicarious


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Category: 2016 Reviews, Mark Davidson, New Work, Theater Wit, World Premier

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