By Claire DeMarco
It was a day like any other as Rosa Parks (Chelsea Davis) waited for the bus ride home after working all day. She knew the routine and the rules on how she had to enter the bus. Access required from the side door, not the front door. Proceed to the back of the bus for the section titled “For Colored Only.” As an additional affront if there were more whites than available seats in the front of the bus, blacks in the back of the bus had to vacate their seats.
Rosa had seen this scenario many times before and had been a victim of it previously. On this ordinary bus ride home, a white passenger required a seat. Bus driver (Ken Lutz) ordered Rosa and three other passengers to vacate their seats. Three people obliged.
But on December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama Rosa Parks said no!
Rosa was arrested. Attorney Edgar Nixon (Nick Page) defended her and through his vision the Montgomery Bus Boycott started a few days after her arrest. The boycott affected thousands of blacks as busing in Montgomery was their main means of transportation and many walked to work instead of riding the buses.
Many other civil rights activists and organizations also existed at this time and Rosa herself had been involved in civil rights initiatives prior to the boycott. It was Edgar Nixon and a little-known minister (at the time) named Martin Luther King Jr. (Jake Moon) who pulled their resources together to coalesce around the boycott, elevating it and the hideous rules associated with segregation to national attention. Virginia Durr (Rebecca L. Godlove), a white anti-segregationist and Rosa acquaintance provided additional support.
The non-violent boycott went on for over a year and ended in a Supreme Court ruling that segregation on the Montgomery bus system was unconstitutional.
Rosa Parks’ story didn’t end with the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Her activism continued throughout her life.
Davis shows the many sides of Rosa Parks. She is poised but determined. Always with a hat, gloves and the ever-present purse, Davis captures the dignity, grace and subtle strength of Rosa Parks.
Godlove is the empathetic Virginia Durr, a white southern woman who fully supports the anti-segregation movement. She plays Durr as an outspoken, charismatic character, unconcerned what her southern neighbors think of her.
Dallas provides comedy relief as the aged Sister Rogers. Leaning on her cane, shawl over her shoulders and eyes squinting to see a few inches in front of her, all her feelings erupt in a sassy and funny explosion of pent-up anger.
Moon does a great job as Martin Luther King Jr., emulating his cadence and speech mannerisms.
As part of the ensemble Lutz plays a myriad of roles and easily transitions from the segregationist bus driver to the supportive Pastor who encourages and lends voice to the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Page is strong as Nixon, the civil rights activist whose influence helped in the implementation of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Ensemble actor Ameriah Fisher is effective as the youthful Claudette Colvin, member of the boycott effort. She is also easily convincing as a mature Coretta Scott King.
Note: There was a religious component to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and interspersed among the production are hymns and spirituals like “Amazing Grace” and “This Little Light of Mine” sung by the actors.
The set consists of several lined-up kitchen chairs specific to the time period. The chairs are used for the bus scene and as the area where many meetings occur. A round table front of stage serves as another center of activity during the boycott.
This is a wonderful production of “Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott”. There is so much more to learn about Rosa Parks after her involvement in the boycott. She is truly an American hero and icon.
Excellent music selection and direction by Music Director Toni Schlemmer.
Kudos to Director Linda Haston. When asked why Rosa’s story is so important, Haston replied that “People who think they know the story, don’t! It’s more than just the bus.”
“Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott” runs from January 19 – 28 at the New Hazlett Center for Performing Arts, 6 Allegheny Square, Pittsburgh, PA 15212. For more information click here.