On a rainy and thundering Saturday night on campus, I went and saw the play “Day of Absence” at Montclair State University’s L. Howard Fox Theater. This being my first viewing of a play on campus, I had no idea what to expect, but the description caught my eye. The show did not disappoint. Not only was this play funny, well-acted and loaded with commentary and satire, but it also has convinced me to start seeing more productions by Montclair State’s Department of Theater and Dance.
The premise is simple. One morning, the residents of a southern white town wake up to realize that the black citizens have vanished without a trace. While it sounds basic enough, it’s also a set-up that could’ve been taken in many different directions, and the direction the play chose proves very effective.
The entire play takes place within the span of a day, and in that day, a lot goes down. Because this play takes place in the mid 1960’s, the white townspeople do have concerns about where the “Negros” went, but it’s satirized by the fact that they only care about them for their work. Throughout the day, business and production come to a halt, houses and bathrooms don’t get cleaned, and the white citizens grow desperate for the black citizens to return.
The story is played up in an incredibly enjoyable and over-the-top way, not only through the direction of the story, but also the acting. Speaking of which, the actors in this play knocked it out of the park. The level of emotion and gravitas they brought to each role was stunning, and their southern accents were flawless, which made their performances that much more enjoyable.
Interestingly, most of the cast members were black actors donning white face, which was a choice that I think benefited the show. Two characters that stood out were the mayor, for how over-the-top he was, and the reverend, who kept switching between preaching the Lord’s wrath on the Negros and praising him.
The stage and set itself, while minimal, was effective in conveying the story with the use of lighting and basic set design. It also had bits of music here and there, which were rare but welcomed, especially the very last moment of the play which had a particularly funny use of the “X Files” theme which was surreal yet amazing.
In the end, I thought that Montclair State’s production of “Day of Absence” was simply awesome. The performances were great, the writing and satire throughout was consistently funny, witty, and even thought provoking, and the minimal use of music and set design gave a humble and charming feel to the whole thing. Overall, I’d give it a solid 8/10. If they performed it again, I’d definitely see it again.