Regardless of your thoughts on the Black History Month (and the fact that it happens to occupy the shortest month of the year)--JDew's "One Voice" at Warehouse Theatre is almost as moving a sweep through famous Black Americans (and Greenvillians) as one could hope for.
JDew (this is a solo show) handles each character with just the right amounts of restraint and rage and hope. He builds his material to a fevered climax. Shivery vocals by Valisa Smith, a tearful interview with Greenville's Wilfred J. Walker, Sr., followed by Martin Luther King, Jr. and his dream. JDew has done his job perfectly--the audience is strained to the heights. We're waiting for that long-promised Justice to roll down.
And then! And then! It never does. Not that there hasn't been any notable history after King, but that there isn't any more in the show. Instead, there comes a baffling interlude. Right when those mighty waters are about to break, in comes Cassius Clay. And not the Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali of renowned political activism ("Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?"), but the clowinish Clay of early days. And even more unfortunately, the same is true for the following act: Bill Cosby in all his humorous glory, not the Bill Cosby who is still speaking hard to the racial problems of the day.
Don't get me wrong: there's nothing wrong with the performance. JDew hilariously embodies both men, and the audience is more than ready for a laughing break. Still, I couldn't help but wonder what happened to that longing for justice? For the longing that JDew stirred up and whipped to a frenzy? Where did all that fevered emotion go? What on earth happened between '68 and 2008--when JDew again picks up his threads of oppression and redemption with Obama's "Yes We Can." Don't tell me all we did was laugh. Something happened in those forty years between one man's assassination and another man's election.
Despite it's little foibles, this is still a show worth seeing--in its current incarnation and (I hope) in a more carefully structured version some time in the future. And while I am hoping, let me also hope that someday soon JDew's show will not have to be limited to that narrow window of time we call "Black History Month," but that it will be viewed with as much enthusiasm and interest all the other months of the year.
JDew's "One Voice" Directed by Ron Pyle.
Presented by Warehouse Theatre, 37 Augusta St., Greenville (864) 235-6948.