DE WAYS OF DE WIMMENS, adapted and directed by Jaye Stewart, and DAY OF ABSENCE, by Douglas Turner Ward; directed by Ed de Shae; both plays produced by Sadiqa Pettaway and Lester Hatcher; set design by Jaye Stewart; and design and sound by Ed de Shae. With Luzern Washington, Denise Asparagus, Ketia Semia, Jamaal Huggins, Arthur Dailey Jr., Kelly Porter, Mike Morris, Tabia Thomas, Gloria Davis-Hill, Kent Jackman, Edward Mays, Chester Sims, Cindi Grant and Roscoe Freeman. At the Rep, Inc., 3710 Georgia Avenue NW, Fridays through Sundays until Aug. 19.
When a small Southern town wakes up one morning to find its black population mysteriously absent and unaccounted fro, havoc ensues - pure, paralyzing and, in the Rep, Inc.'s production of Douglas Turner Ward's "Day of Absence," extremely pungent havoc.
"Two-a-day Pete," a local policeman known for his uninterrupted record of arresting two blacks a day over a long and distinguished law enforcement career, is so upset he has to be carted off to an asylum.
Infants, robbed of their devoted nannies, rebel against the attentions of strange parents.
"She won't let me touch her!" exclaims Ketia Smith as a distressed, nanny-less young mother trying to calm a screaming infant.
"She's probably wet and sloppy," observes Luzern Washington as the husband, willing to endure any hardship so long as it means he won't have to handle his own baby.
"Oh yes, and she'll smell something awful," replied the mother.
The mayor, meanwhile, is stomping up and down and barking orders at helpless aides as search parties sent to find the missing blacks keep coming back empty-handed. "Not a man, nor a woman, nor a child - nor even a black dog!" laments the mayor,magnificently played by Edward Mays.
Later, in the production's most manic and delightful comic outburst, Mays delivers an impassioned international radio appeal for the return of these "nonessential" and "noncrucial" personnel, employing every concevable argument from every conceivable posture. But to no avail.
The harried whites are played, of course, by black actors in white face, many of whom seem to find the assignment a therapeutic change of pace. Kelly Porter, as a dimwitted store clerk, could probably build a whole career playing this one delightful dumb cracker.
Fairness, naturally, is not the long suit of these broad characterizations. It's not in the nature of a stereotype to be fair. But they can be very funny - and although this one-idea play outstays our patience, Ward usually turns out to have another trick or two up his sleeve.
The shorter, equally funny, equally well-acted play on the Rep's current bill is an adaptation of an anonymous folk tale, "De Ways of De Wimmens." Half mime and half standup comedy, this is an account of how Adam prevailed on the Lord to give a man an advantage in muscle, and how a distraught Eve obtained, as compensation, the keys to the kitchen and bedroom.
Denise Asparagus and Luzern Washington play their battle of the sexes to the hilt. (But since the Rep has alternate casts for both shows, there is no guaranteeing that you'll see these particular actors int hese particular roles.)
Perhaps the high point of "De Ways of De Wimmens" is its stirring depiction of one of the great discoveries in Human relations - the power of a woman's scream.