With enough pomp and circumstance to befit royalty, the 1928 marriage of W.E.B. Du Bois’s daughter to his protégé, the poet Countee Cullen, was considered one of the shining moments of the Harlem Renaissance. But after two short years, the couple divorced. What went wrong is the fascinating subject of Charles Smith’s delightful play Knock Me a Kiss, a production of the New Federal Theatre and the Legacy Creative Arts Company.
In this complex and rather unflattering portrait of the Du Bois family, Obie winner André De Shields gracefully commands the stage as the brilliant but emotionally absent paterfamilias. Obsessed with building an elite “Talented Tenth” of African-Americans, the NAACP leader, in one especially humorous scene, shows Cullen how to create a chart to choose a wife: “Examine blood lines. Heredity, physique, health, and brains.” Meanwhile, Du Bois’s only child, Yolande (Erin Cherry), is torn between carrying on her father’s legacy and following the man she really loves—the dashing jazz-band conductor Jimmie Lunceford (Morocco Omari). The roughly two-hour production flies by thanks to skillful direction from Chuck Smith and terrific acting from the talented six-member cast (Gillian Glasco stands out as Yolande’s feisty pal, Lenora). Expect to go home with a happy swing in your step.