Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Day of Absence
Karamu House
Review by Mark Horning

Also see Mark's review of Everything Is Okay (and other helpful lies) and David's review of Sweat

Jailyn Sherell Harris and Robert Hunter
Photo by Vince Robinson
What would happen? What would happen if all people of color suddenly disappeared? No one to care for the upper crust babies? No one to work the chicken farms and meat processing plants? No one to pick the fruits and vegetables from the fields and orchards? No janitors, third shift workers, or hotel maids? Not to mention the many professionals such as doctors, lawyers, police, firemen and investment specialists. What would happen?

These are the questions asked in Douglas Turner Ward's 1965 one-act satire Day of Absence, directed by Nathan A. Lilly in what is called a "reimaged" production at Karamu House.

It is a hot summer Tuesday morning in a small rural town somewhere below the Mason-Dixon Line. It could be any day from 200 years ago to today. Luke and Clem are sitting in front of Luke's store greeting the passersby as they discuss life in general to pass the time. As the minutes go by, Clem realizes that "something ain't right but I ain't sure what it is." It does not take the two men long to discover that the usual parade of blacks on their way to work has mysteriously vanished.

All across town, people are awakening to crying babies, no breakfast, and no workers. Soon, the town's switchboard is overwhelmed as people panic and try to reach someone for answers. Soon, the mayor's office is overwhelmed by angry business men and women who want answers. Preachers talk once again about the end of days, and life comes to an abrupt standstill.

Day of Absence is presented in reverse minstrel style (people of color wear white face make-up) with totally exaggerated speech and motions, in order to give a sense of urgency to the proceedings. Nine actors play a total of 26 characters. Everything is overplayed for laughs and no topic is spared.

Director Nathan A. Lilly has given the cast free rein in making a boisterous cacophony of live action. Special mention goes to Inda Blatch-Geib for the "All-American outfits" that are all stars and stripes, as well as some of brighter-than-bright colors. The scenic design by Prophet D. Seay features a huge American flag blending into a Confederate flag as the centerpiece of the set, with a government building, complete with its own Confederate flag on a pole on the left and a wheat field with barn in the background (with its own Confederate flag on display) on the right. The rest of the stage is in a red, white and blue motif.

With the current state of affairs in this country concerning race relations, Day of Absence is a much needed mirror that everyone needs to carefully peer into. While it's a broad comedy that uses a reverse minstrel show format to make its point, it nonetheless paints a telling portrait of what is still needed to make this a country of total inclusion. It is a show for the times.

Day of Absence, through November 18, 2018, at Karamu House, Arena Theatre, 2355 E. 89th Street, Cleveland OH. Tickets may be purchased by calling 216-795-7077 or online at

Lachaka Askew: Operator/Council Person/Club Woman/Rastus
Jeannine Gaskin: Operator/Council Person One, Industrialists/Aide
Jailyn Sherell Harris: Jackson (the Mayor's assistant)
Robert Hunter: the Mayor
Maya T. Jones: Mary/Council Person Two/Businessman/Doll Woman
Austin Blake Sasser: Clem/Clan/Mop Man
Prophet D. Seay: Luke/Rev. Pious/Brushman
Nate Summers: John/Switchboard Supervisor/Courier/Cameraman
Sherrie Tolliver: Operator/TV Announcer

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