In June 2021, the Robey Theatre Company commissioned five playwrights to each write a full-length play; and five strong plays emerged. Currently, The Robey Theatre Company presents the U.S. premiers of those powerful plays, Kwik Jones’ MAN’S FAVOR DEVIL’S PLAN. To quote artistic director Ben Guillory, “Kwik has written an uncompromising play that reflects life in America for too many people of color for the better part of the twentieth century. A microcosm of how colored people navigate that very dangerous labyrinth and continue to figure out how to survive, contribute, and even thrive in this country despite the odds.” The production is skillfully directed by C. Julian White, while the talents of this company of actors bring the souls of these characters to life. MAN’S FAVOR DEVIL’S PLAN asks the question: “What if it’s 1938, and you are poor, black, and uneducated, and you’ve recently moved to California to find work because there is a depression gripping the U.S.? What if I told you that you had to do whatever I wanted you to because I’m your boss and you must comply, or I’m going to fire you?” C. Julian White digs right into that question with gusto and a keen eye to detail.
When Ladie Nolan (Matt Jennings) arrived in L.A. from Texas, his sister DD Nolan (Ashlee Olivia) managed to get him a job as a busboy in the hotel where she worked as a maid – no small feat in The Great Depression. Oddly naïve, Ladie dreams of becoming a tap dancer and conquering the world. And so Ladie settles in at the hotel run by the owner’s son, Mr. Avery (Darrell Phillip), a man who loves to do favors for his African American staff, including Butchie (Nic Few), Mabel Lynn (Christina Childress), and Ms. Pearl (Crystal Nix). But those favors may have a downside – which Ladie begins to realize when he gets a chance to make his dreams come true through one of Mr. Avery’s favors. Like the Southern plantations of the colored staff’s forebears, Mr. Avery calls the shots – every one of them – and woe betide anyone who questions or disagrees. Especially a man as impulsive as Butchie, a hotel cook and former prize fighter who is accustomed to fighting for what he wants. All signs point to fireworks.
Helmed with compassion tempered with realism, C. Julian White does a fine job of defining each character with the special internal compass which makes him/her tick. Each of them knows that “Make a deal wit’ da’ devil, an’ you always comin’ out on da’ losin’ end.” Anger and complacency are mixed with fatalism. As the insufferable overseer whose whip has morphed into a pistol, Darrell Phillips does a bang-up job of becoming “the man you love to hate.” After seeing this production, you are likely to join the first union you come to.
Nathan Gary Stoffel’s set design strikes just the right environment for the story, while Naila Aladdin Sanders’ costumes quickly pull us into the 1930s. MAN’S FAVOR DEVIL’S PLAN lets us know something about America’s racial heritage in no uncertain terms. This is a thought-provoking, stylishly written production which is both entertaining and enlightening.
MAN’S FAVOR DEVIL’S PLAN runs through November 20, 2022, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays (dark 11/5/22). The Robey Theatre Company performs in the Los Angeles Theatre Center, Theatre 4, located at 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, CA 90013. Tickets are $40 ($25 students, seniors, LAUSD teachers, veterans, groups of 10+). For information and reservations, call 213-489-7402 or go online.