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Zora Neal Hurston

Elizabeth Van Dyke                       



                         By R. Pikser


Not only important history but breathtaking performances


A theatrical biography could be tedious, but Laurence Holder’s 20 year old piece about the life of Zora Neale Hurston, mounted again in celebration of the 125th anniversary of her birth, is stunning.  As narrated by Ms. Hurston at the bus station, as she leaves New York to go back home to her small town in Florida, the piece is full of vignettes, stories, portraits of those she was close to, and wicked satires of some she was not so close to.  This country girl became the first Black student at Barnard College on a scholarship arranged by the most famous anthropologist of the day, Franz Boas.  She was a principal figure of the primarily male Harlem Renaissance, and reputed queen of it.  Her politics, well in advance of her time, is still problematic for some:  She believed that Black people did not need to be, should not be, integrated into white society, that they would do better on their own, providing their own excellence as they had done historically, from the Egyptians with whom Aristotle studied, through the playwright Terence, the composers Haydn and Beethoven, and innumerable other renowned thinkers and artists.



Hurston was solidly grounded in her love for and appreciation of Black culture.  This position, deemed radical, and her irrepressible sense of self, earned her the enmity not only of whites, who feared Blacks, but of her peers, especially the men, who could not stand (or feared) an uppity woman, especially one whose politics ran counter to theirs.  Her enemies banded together to accuse her of child molestation, though she had been out of the country at the time of the alleged assault.  Though exonerated, she was driven from New York in poverty.  But no one ever succeeded in stilling her voice, which still speaks to us and resonates within us.


Elizabeth Van Dyke and Joseph Lewis Edwards                    photos by Gerry Goodstein.


The performances of Elizabeth Van Dyke and Joseph Lewis Edwards, recreating their original roles, show the advantages of maturity.  Ms. Van Dyke, as Hurston, a few upper class white ladies, and all the different characters in the folk tales she tells us, and Mr. Edwards as the various men in Hurston’s life, are impeccable.  Not only do they create the characters, their characters listen to one another and react.  These two are artists and they demonstrate what the craft of acting can be at its finest.


The staging of the piece by director Woodie King, Jr. overcame most of the limitations of the very small stage space at the Castillo.  We needed very little more than to watch the performers at their work.  One problem that was not successfully overcome was the complication between the limited stage space, the lighting spill and the projections of the photographs of the famous historical figures on the panels that gave some depth to the space.  We need to clearly see these figures from the past so they will impress themselves into our memories, whether for the first time, or once again, so that we can learn from them in their brilliance and their foibles.  The brilliance of the performers deserves nothing less than the brilliance of the scene, even if they can and do triumph over any obstacle.


Zora Neal Hurston


New Federal Theatre

Zora Neal Hurston

October 20th - November 20th, 2016

Castillo Theater

543 West 42nd Street

New York, NY

Tickets $40; Students and Seniors $30; Groups of 10 or more $25

Box Office:  212 941 1234; 212 353 1176;