Voice of Good Hope in its Final Run

Now in its’ final run at the tiny Celebration Arts theater is Voice of Good Hope, portraying the life of Congresswoman Barbara Jordan.

Voress Franklin (as Barbara Jordan) and Lisa Derthick (as Nancy Earl)

Barbara Jordan was the first Black female elected to the U. S. Congress, a feisty and spirited orator of impressive skill and powers of persuasion. Congresswoman Jordan was born in 1936 in the Fifth Ward of Houston, Texas, long before desegregation and the civil rights awakenings of the 1960’s. Her skin, darker than anyone in her family, set her on a path of self-identity and courage. She learned much of her courage and ethnic pride from her maternal grandfather, John Ed Patten.

She attended Texas Southern University, where she became a champion debater prior to her graduation with a double major in political science and history. She continued to Boston University, where she studied law.

In 1966 she made history by being the first black woman, and the first black person in nearly 80 years, to serve in the Texas House of Representatives. In 1972, she was elected from the 18th Congressional District in Houston to serve in the U. S. Congress. She championed causes, for the poor, the black and other disadvantaged groups; working for voting rights and workman’s compensation.

She entered the national spotlight in 1974 by casting a Yes vote in favor of impeachment for President Richard Nixon. In 1976, she was selected to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic national convention. (Give that speech a listen, her spunk is on display.)

Voice of Good Hope is an intimate play that moves easily forward and back through different periods in Ms. Jordan’s life, starting first with her speech to the House Committee on Impeachment. Voress Franklin’s presentation of Ms. Jordan is convincing in both her oratory skills and her stage presence. I was instantly transported to the one time I heard Barbara Jordan speak in person.

From that introduction, the play moves forward to Ms. Jordan’s later years when she was ailing from the effects of Multiple Sclerosis, and being cared for by her lifetime companion and assistant, Nancy Earl.  Jordan’s feisty spirit is displayed when Earl denies her cigarettes, and conspires, using a bicycle, to bribe her into losing weight.

Jhaela Jones (as Heart) and Kelton Howard (as John Ed Patten)

We swing back to Ms. Jordan’s childhood, and see the strong relationship with her grandfather, John-Ed, played by Kelton Howard. The performance here is touching. Young “Heart” Jhaela Jones plays a 12-year-old Barbara performing odd chores with John Ed, while he counsels her to stand up for herself in the face of adversity. The actors played this scene beautifully; both show fine talent and I look forward to seeing them in other productions.

Other scenes illuminate Ms. Jordan’s skills in negotiation (especially the scene with Democratic party chairman, Robert Strauss) and her steadfast adherence to her personal values in denying support to a former student in her ownrace for Congress, because she had extreme beliefs that did not align with the Congresswoman’s.

Voress Franklin (as Barbara Jordan) and Zachary Bird (as Robert Strauss)

The play runs a bit long at nearly 2 hours, but the performances are strong, and the tiny theater is worth a visit.

Tiny Celebration Arts Theater has been located in a quiet neighborhood in East Sacramento for over 19 years, found in a former neighborhood shopping corner between a gym and a caterer. It is run completely with volunteers and is a 501(c)3, providing training, classes, seminars, workshops, and producing theatrical, dance, and choral productions. It’s an intimate space, and the people who make it work feel instantly like family. Do try it.

Voice of Good Hope runs through this weekend, Th-Sat 8 PM, Sun at 2 PM.

The next play to be produced here will be Knock Me a Kiss, by Charles Smith, about the marriage of W. E. B. Dubose’s daughter to Countee Cullen, opens next weekend and will run through September 7th.

Celebration Arts Theater
4469 D Street

Alicia Morris (as Julie Dunn) and Voress Franklin (as Barbara Jordan)

Disclosure: Barbara Jordan delivered the commencement address at the University of Texas, the year I graduated. I still remember her speech, delivered over 25 years ago.

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