As if to celebrate Black History Month and this November’s electoral process at once, Acacia Theatre premiered Laddy Sartin’s Blessed Assurance last
Friday at Concordia University’s Todd Wehr Auditorium. The play casts
the struggle to secure voting rights for African-Americans during the
Freedom Summer of 1964 in fictionalized, localized and intensely
personal terms. A black waitress at a white-owned diner in a small
Mississippi town makes a one-woman revolution out of her demand to cast
That waitress, Olivia, was played by Ericka Wade with a controlled emotive fire that parallels the eatery’s malfunctioning water heater and signals the tension of the situation portrayed. She was joined by only four other players. The small cast nonetheless evokes the feelings on both sides of the racial fence during the sociopolitical upheaval that led to 1965’s Voting Rights Act.
Almost any such change, however, can be accompanied by diffidence and rationalization of why progress should be prolonged ... or not occur at all. Yet only the male characters, from the restaurant owner (Evan Weisfeldt) to the violent yet doltish emissary of the White Citizens Counsel (Jason Will) and the waitress’s would-be suitor (Mario Andre Alberts), seem to doubt them selves and their surroundings. Olivia and the cafe proprietor’s teen daughter, Sally (Kathryn Mooers), appear unwavering in their fight for and support of democratic justice.
Acacia’s usual prerogative to produce Christian-themed drama extended not only to the church and
preaching milieu of which Olivia spoke to justify her controversial actions and informed civil rights
protests. A variety of recorded soul gospel plays before the play and during intermission. And in looking back at that tempestuous time, Blessed Assurance alludes to the furtherance of racial harmony today.