Theater review | ‘Waiting to Be Invited’: Production celebrates small acts that help create social and political change
by Margaret Quamme
The hugely entertaining and quietly moving “Waiting to Be Invited,” a dramedy written by S.M. Shepard-Massat, is performed with relish as a collaboration between PAST Productions and Red Herring Productions.
Three black co-workers at a doll factory head out on a bus after work on a Friday afternoon shortly after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has been upheld by the Supreme Court. Feisty Ms. Odessa (Julie Whitney Scott),timid Ms. Delores (Patricia Wallace-Winbush) and observant Ms. Louise (Demia Kandi) plan to meet self-righteous pastor’s wife Ms. Ruth (Cathy Bean) outside an Atlanta department store and then go in to make a stand by eating at the previously “whites only” dining room there.
On the bus ride, they joke and spar with driver Palmeroy (Harold Yarborough), who doesn’t share the women’s passion for integration, and interact with bustling Ms. Grayson (Josie Merkle), the opinionated white widow of a country pastor who climbs on the bus halfway through its journey. Once they arrive, they find that Ms. Ruth has begun to have doubts about the whole endeavor, and they are forced to confront their own fears about it.
In another ensemble, Scott’s acerbic Ms. Odessa, whose wry cynicism and inability to suffer fools provides much of the play’s comic tone, might overshadow the quieter members of the group. So could Merkle’s Ms. Grayson, who conducts what is essentially a long monologue, blissfully unaware of how it is being received by the other passengers on the bus.
But director Wallace-Winbush maintains a balance among the characters, giving them equal weight. In what could be a talky play, she keeps the emphasis on the physical, making sure that the characters’ gestures and expressions are as important as their words.
If Shepard-Massat’s play, particularly in the second act, sometimes veers into speechifying and unnecessarily dramatic revelations, she never lets her characters fall into stereotypes, and their references to the political events of the time seem completely natural.
While the set is spartanly simple, with, for example, a row of folding chairs standing in for the bus, a backdrop on which are projected images of Atlanta provides a sense of the period, and David Edwards’ vivid sound design adds a sense of movement through space.
With a light touch, and a thorough awareness of the complexity of its characters and their motives, “Waiting to Be Invited” pays tribute to the way small acts help to create large social and political changes.