As America is poised to elect a black man to the White House, Tanya Barfield’s historical drama revisits a time when blacks weren’t even wanted in the building. The action unfolds in the tumultuous reform era of Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, when issues of child labor, women’s suffrage, monopoly domination and the “Negro Question” are roiling the political waters. For Jade Kingston (an unpolished turn by Michole Briana White), there is wary optimism that Wilson (Lawrence Pressman) might advocate for better treatment of blacks. She gets a job as a White House stenographer, but her boss, Edward (Michael T. Weiss), turns out to be a patronizing boor with a perpetual hard-on, who treats her like a glorified domestic. Bitter and disillusioned, she is dragged into some chicanery with a black journalist (Joseph C. Phillips), which ultimately lands her on the wrong side of the law. Barfield’s script is surprisingly devoid of insight or depth; depicted here by Barfield and director Leigh Silverman, Wilson is reduced to a doddering old man with an annoying penchant for blustery oratory, a dull sense of humor and bad migraines. A scene that has him cringe while watching scenes from Birth of a Nation is almost absurd. Edward is even more of an airy caricature. The final scene, illuminated by fireworks, is grossly heavy-handed and contrived. Richard Hoover and Sibyl Wickersheimer’s Oval Office set piece, however, is well-crafted.
Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., July 13, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m. Starts: July 11. Continues through July 27, 2008

LA Weekly