"Garvey," a dramatic treatment of the 1920s black consciousness advocate Marcus Garvey, fails to capture the charisma of the controversial spokesman and transforms his life into a dry history-reading.
The production, which closes a two-night run at Howard University's Cramton Auditorium tonight, takes a sweeping look at Garvey's life and times, beginning with the slow dismemberment of his United Negro Improvement Association in 1922. But instead of concentrating on the power of the man and bringing him into conflict with his equally powerful critics -- A. Philip Randolph and William E. B. DuBois -- author C. Haka Kunda has chosen merely to recite their criticism. What he offers are the accusations of the splintered UNIA board members, a disillusioned and disregraded wife, and the attorney general's office.
The effect, therefore, is that of a one-man show with a busy but wooden chorus. The opportunity for the dramatic moments are frequently lost. When Amy Ashwood Garvey comes home to confront her husband and his new wife, the two women have a polite fistfight and Garvey stands by. With one woman flat on the floor, Garvey, played by Pedro, falls on his knees like a child having a tantrum. Would the real Garvey, who captured the imagination of thousands of blacks, have acted so cowardly?
Other dramatic opportunities are missed. When a Black Star liner finally gets to Jamaica, all the author and director David Sheppard offer is a dance. Where was Garvey boasting about his return home? When Maddox, one of the men investigating Garvey, tries to pry information from the first Mrs. Garvey and she recounts her marital woes, Maddox slaps his hand to his forehead and says, "Will Negro suffering ever end?" The audience, loudly appreciated the ridiculous moment.
The brightest moment of "Garvey" comes from his two ambivalent followers, Captain Cockburn, played by Andre Gatson, and Arnold, played by Mawalimu Raom. Cockburn is delightful as he boasts of his amorous conquests around the world, but that's a scene that could have fitted into any play and is not relevant to the life of Marcus Garvey.