Falling in love with someone outside your race could be challenging, especially during times of overt racial tensions and cultural differences. Yet the late Roger Ebert, a Caucasian film critic and renowned television host, endured a quiet movement alongside his African American wife Chaz Ebert, to show their colleagues, family, and the world, that their love was real.
In a musical stage play written, directed and produced by playwright Jackie Taylor, in collaboration with Ebert’s wife, Chaz Ebert, The BlackWhite Love Play is Roger and Chaz’s true love story. The play will be performed at the Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center in Chicago through November 15, 2015.
The BlackWhite Love Play is beautifully orchestrated in music, song and acting, that’s depicted as an Ancient Greek drama, a stylized performance practiced in ancient Greece to honor the gods. This style of entertainment features the Chorus as the storyteller, using poetry, song and dance. “What a wonderful, wonderful journey this has been," explains Taylor, "I chose this form because in this story we are honoring love, and love is the most powerful of the gods."
The cast of The BlackWhite Love Play includes Rashada Dawan as Chaz Ebert, and Kevin Pollack as Roger Ebert. The Chorus is Evelyn Danner, Rueben Echoles, Porsche King, Robbin Major, Jhardon Dishon Milton, Matthew T. Payne, Jessica Seals, Kyle Smith, Sally Staats and Qween Wicks. The six-piece orchestra performs under the music direction of Robert Reddrick.
The BlackWhite Love Play takes us on a chronological story line in Chicago where Roger, a young journalist, and Chaz an attorney, fall in love and get married in 1992. Chaz describes on RogerEbert.com, the challenges in her interracial marriage and how the play was “a beautiful tribute to Roger and me.”
“I was stunned at how intensely personal the product was, with Jackie guessing at words that Roger and I said to each other in real life,“ explains Chaz, who attended the opening with her son Jay and granddaughter Raven. “And more often than not, hitting the nail on the head.”
From Ebert’s budding career as a writer for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1967, his meteoric rise to stardom began in 1975 as a well-respected movie critic who partnered with Gene Siskel, a film critic for the Chicago Tribune. Together, they hosted the movie-review television syndicated series, Sneak Previews. The BlackWhite Love Play reveals Siskel and Ebert's passion for movies, and their on-camera rivalry that turned into a close friendship.
“Kevin captured so many wonderful elements of Roger’s personality,” says Chaz, as written in her review. “And it was good to see this carefree side of him, unencumbered by illness or problems, not engaged in debates with Gene Siskel, but reveling in the first stages of love.”
Roger Ebert was beloved throughout the world and became the most influential and recognizable entertainment critic in the United States. In his televised series Sneak Previews, he popularized the "thumbs up" phrase, which denoted his favor for a particular film.
In addition to being honored with the coveted Pulitzer Prize, Ebert is the only film critic with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He also won the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Screenwriters' Guild and named honorary life member of the Directors' Guild of America.
After Siskels’ death in 1999, Ebert continued his passion in journalism until he succumbed in 2013 after a lengthy cancer battle of the salivary gland and thyroid. Chaz expressed in her blog how she felt, sitting in the audience, seeing Pollack reenacting Ebert when he lost his ability to speak after surgery. “At that moment, he looked and moved uncannily like Roger. I was drawn back into the everyday of our lives and my heart ached. After two-and-a-half years of learning to live without him, I was seeing him there again.”
Daina Howze, remembers watching Roger Ebert on television in Detroit during the ’70’s and was excited to see the story of Ebert’s life. She and her husband Don are advent supporters of the Black Ensemble Theater and says out of all the performances she’s enjoyed at the theater, The BlackWhite Love Play touched her the most.
“The resemblance of the lead actors to Chaz and Roger was surreal. It really showed the love the two had for each other.” Howze says Chaz’s inner strength was characterized perfectly by Rashada and reflected the passionate love that Chaz continues to have for Roger. “When Rashada came out and said that ‘she is not the widow of Roger Ebert, but the wife of Roger Ebert, because he still lives within her.' That was her very unique way of remembering his love.”
Jackie Taylor shares her enthusiasm in producing The BlackWhite Love Play in her prologue written in the theater's playbill. She thanks Chaz for her openness and willingness to share her life with all of us. “Thank you Chaz for being such a giving and loving human being," continues Taylor, “you are indeed a remarkable woman."
The BlackWhite Love Play is performing at the Black Ensemble Theatre Cultural Center in Chicago, through November 15, 2015. Tickets can be purchased online at www.blackensemble.org or by calling 773.769.4451.