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DC Arts Center
Remaining performances:
Saturday, July 19 @ 1:00 PM; Thursday, July 24 @ 6:30 PM
Saturday, July 26 @ 1:00 PM; Sunday, July 27 @ 4:00 PM

They say: “A one man show that focuses on pioneering African American actors and athletes, B.A.D takes the audience on the journey as the artist tries to honor the struggles and challenges many African Americans faced. As he tries to do this, the spirits of Bill Pickett, Bert Williams, Paul Robeson, and Jack Johnson enter his body and speak through him to speak about their life, hardships, and accomplishments.”

Suzyn’s take: The concept of “edu-tainment” is like the concept of “dinner theater.” When the two elements are combined, one expects that neither of them will be particularly good. B.A.D (Black And Defiant) is a show all about overcoming stereotypes, and it defies this one as well. Stephan Collins-Stepney takes on the roles of rodeo cowboy Bill Pickett, comedian and actor Bert Williams, boxer Jack Johnson and singer, lawyer and all-around impressive guy Paul Robeson. He portrays each figure in turn and does a very good job giving them distinctive voices and ways of moving. He engages his whole body in the performance, which is particularly effective when he portrays Johnson. His transitions between the characters are obvious, yet smooth, giving the show a professional feel.

But Collins-Stepney is most striking in the role of Bert Williams, a vaudeville comedian whom W.C. Fields described as “the funniest man I ever saw, and the saddest man I ever knew.” As Williams, Collins-Stepney sits at a table and talks about his life while putting on blackface, then performs some of the physical comedy Williams was known for as he talks about the obstacles Williams overcame. The humor was certainly funny, though the audience was too caught up in the pathos of Williams’ having to perform in blackface to laugh. It would have been easy to watch an entire play about Williams alone. The other three figures aren’t quite as fascinating, but still it is a solid show all around. A few technical issues were somewhat distracting, the audience participation elements were a bit clumsy, and Collins-Stepney’s voice wasn’t quite up to Paul Robeson’s deep bass. But on the whole it is a compelling look at four pioneers about whom I knew very little, and I left the theater considering the personal costs these men paid for their greatness.

See it if: You’d like to spend an hour with four interesting people who changed the world in subtle ways.

Skip it if: You prefer your tainment edu-free, or at least a little lighter.