ENSEMBLE THEATRE: “The Lawsons: A Civil Rights Love Story” runs from February 11, 2022 to February 27, 2022
Photo: Mason Rankin
Celebrating its 45th anniversary season, Ensemble Theater has chosen the perfect play for February, honoring both Black History Month and the sentiments of Valentine’s Day.
Written by Melda Beaty and directed by Artistic Director Eileen J. Morris, “The Lawsons: A Civil Rights Love Story” is based on the true romance of Reverend William and Audrey Lawson, who were both central figures in the struggle for civil rights. civil rights in Houston. They wrote hundreds of letters to each other while dating.
This commissioned world premiere spans from 1952 to 2015, with screen footage of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s opening the piece accompanied by songs from the era and striking and memorable music by composer Charrise Brown. . The musical performances are reason enough to see this engaging and historic production.
The action begins with a dramatic scene in which an older Audrey calls out to her beloved Bill for help, then the lights go out and we are sent back in time to the start of their relationship, which will span more half a century. One of the strengths of this play is that all the actors are compelling, regardless of age, and it’s a solid cast.
The romance between William (“Bill”) Lawson (an engaging and compelling Timothy Eric) and Audrey Hoffman (the exceptional Lakeisha Randle Koontz) begins with their letters. Audrey is at college in Tennessee, and after reading one of Bill’s letters to another girl, writes to her. On the screen behind the actors, we indeed see some of these original letters, adding a poignant touch to their story.
When: 10 Feb.-March. 13
Or: The Theater Ensemble. 3535 Main Street, Houston Texas 77002
Details: $44-$60; 713-520-0055; www.ensemblehouston.com
Even though Bill lives in Kansas City, he also falls in love with her letters and they correspond for years before meeting in person. The public is entitled to hear some of their correspondence and, whether flirtatious or simply sweet, the letters establish a strong bond between Bill and Audrey. In late 1952, Audrey broke up with her army-enlisted boyfriend, and the new couple exchange photos and information about themselves, including Bill’s strong Christian faith.
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Bill writes Audrey that she is “wife material” and they end up getting married. Their correspondence is also the main feature of the song “Letters,” the play’s opening duet, a charming accompaniment to the couple’s growing romance. Audrey smokes a little and says she is “a little fresh”. Bill can’t wait to see her in person and calls her “Little Red”. They’re extremely likable characters, but the real-life photos of them that punctuate the room remind us that they’re not just characters, but part of Houston’s history.
There are funny moments, like when Bill tells Audrey “No damage can be done by the mailbox”. But the play’s major historical concerns are serious, including segregation issues in Houston, the assassinations of civil rights leaders, and the pressures on Bill Lawson, a Baptist leader not only at Texas Southern University, but also at their Wheeler. Avenue Baptist. Church, to “do something” amid the unrest and protests.
We follow the Lawsons from their early marriage and the birth of their children (including award-winning Houston journalist Melanie Lawson), to their move to Houston. Their contributions to the civil rights movement are dramatized with moving songs such as “Time for a Change” and “Take This City”. We see their despair when their house is burned down. We see the frustration of getting Mayor Cutrer (Foster Davis) to desegregate food counters and retail establishments such as Foley’s. We see the reality of their struggles.
This piece reminds us that all politics is local and affects real people in our own neighborhoods. Bill and Audrey Lawson didn’t believe in violence, and Beaty’s storyline shows their endurance through difficult and unpredictable times. But their devotion to each other is a certainty.
Audrey’s struggles with Alzheimer’s disease are an important part of the second act. But audiences see a long love story intertwined with social justice, and that in itself is a valentine to Houston and the powerful roles the Lawsons have played in its history.
Doni Wilson is a Houston-based writer.