By Holli Harms
Who are you really?
Our backgrounds, our race, our history, our culture, connect us (sometimes with chains) to the ideas of who we are.
The concept of country is even more attached to ideas of who we are and where we belong as citizens.
In Charles L. White’s beautiful world premiere, Gong Lum’s Legacy, our place in the world is not only where our race puts us but our gender as well.
It is 1927, a Chinese American, Gong Lum, went to the state high courts to get his daughter into a white high school in Mississippi, she was not white, and so not allowed to attend the all-white school. Her father, then taking it all the way to the Supreme Court, fought back, and lost. It was a loss for the entire Chinese community across the country.
Gong Lum and his fight for gender equality is the backdrop for the play.
The setting is the grocery store of Mr. Ting (Henry Yuk). Mr. Ting is an older Chinese American who believes in his culture’s ways of living and the importance of bloodline. His son Joe (Eric Yang) a young Chinese American, wants to master the English language and hires a young teacher who shops at the store, Lucy (DeShawn White), to be his English teacher. He will pay her he promises. The payment is Lucy’s drive to take the extra teaching job and she ends up working part-time in the store as well. The money she is saving from all this extra work will help her go back to school and get her teaching degree. Her brother Melvin (Anthony Goss) picks cotton but dreams of opening his own barbershop. Her best friend, Loretta (Alinca Hamilton), is Lucy’s sounding board, her confidant, her shoulder to lean on.
What starts off as a student-teacher relationship between Joe and Lucy blossoms into romance. And when Lucy goes away to school, Lucy’s brother Melvin leaves the cotton fields and takes her place helping out at the store, but with one stipulation imposed by Mr. Ting, he helps dissuade Joe and Lucy from marrying. Mr. Ting wants his family to live in the world of the privileged whites and fears a mixed relationship will hold his son back. He follows Gong Lum’s trial on the radio with the desire that Lum and his family be allowed into the all-white high school. That acceptance would bring Mr. Ting hope for a bright future for his son and his son’s children.
Hopes and dreams, respect, friendship, and love are all at the core of the play. The beautiful characters are embodied with passion, grace, and love by the actors. The playwright, Mr. White, has created strong individuals who believe they can overcome whatever comes their way with determination and perseverance. Fitting in is important in any society, Mr. Ting wants to fit in, but the others are looking to carve out their own worlds. The whole production is directed flowingly, like music and water, by Elizabeth Van Dyke.
Gong Lum’s Legacy is an uplifting theatrical experience examining the truth of what makes a family.
With: Anthony Goss (Melvin), Alinca Hamilton (Loretta), DeShawn White ( Lucy), Eric Yang (Joe), and Henry Yuk ( Mr. T.)
Directed by Elizabeth Van Dyke, Associate Director Dan Wackerman, Set Design by Chris Cumberbatch, Lighting Design by Victor En Yu Tan, Costume Design by Ali Turns, Sound Design by David Wright, Properties Design by Marlon Campbell Stage Manager Bayo, Assistant Stage Manager Chrystal Campbell. Casting was by Lawrence Evans Casting.
Running Time: An hour and forty minutes with a 15-minute intermission.
Woodie King Jr.’s New Federal Theatre (2021 Tony Award Honoree for Excellence in Theatre) in association with The Peccadillo Theater Company presents the World Premiere of Gong Lum’s Legacy by Charles L. White
Tickets ($39; $20 students/seniors) are available for advance purchase at www.instantseats.com/events/NewFederal. Performances Thursday – Sunday, March 24-April 24 at Theatre at St. Clements (423 W 46th St, New York, NY 10036)
***Audience members will be required to show proof of vaccination, and to remain masked while inside the theater.