By David Wilfong, NDG Contributing Writer
What do you do if you are waiting tables alone and a major celebrity walks in the door?
That is the premise for “The Champion,” a new play by Amy Evans which is currently in production at the Bishop Arts Theatre.
The play revolves around a small diner in North Carolina where a young waitress named Theresa (played by Cedisha Pitts) is tending shop alone when Nina Simone (Deontay Roaf) walks in with members of her band (Justin White and Lorenzo Hunt). As it occurs in the early 60s, it takes a moment, and some prodding, before Theresa realizes she is serving a star.
Throughout the performance, a snapshot of the career of Simone is painted in the table-side chatter of the musicians; including the isolation and yearning for permanent relationships that can occur around a life on the road. It also touches on matters of race, and how even celebrities were not immune to bigotry as they made their way through small towns and train stations in 1960s America. Simone’s character had reached some point of resolve on the matter and tries to instill the same sense of resilience in the young waitress she encounters.
There are also some light-hearted moments as well, especially in the character of the band’s drummer Bobby Hamilton (Lawrence Patterson). Patterson’s character joins the band late after being left at the train station alone, and the actor pulls off comedic annoyance to great effect.
Roaf and Pitts pull off standout performances in the play, portraying two very different women from different backgrounds, at very different places in their life; Simone the seasoned professional of great renown, and Theresa the starry-eyed young girl with simple hopes and ambitions.
The play also serves to shed a bit more light on (and perhaps for some an introduction to) the life of Eunice Kathleen Waymon, who used the name Nina Simone to record more than 40 albums in addition to taking a stand against racial discrimination in a very turbulent era in America. The performance does deal with delicate subjects of race and adult content and contains language which might not be suitable for younger audiences.
“The Champion” continues through Oct. 28 at the Bishop Arts Theatre Center (215 S. Tyler St.).