Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 607

Wiletta Mayer

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Wiletta Mayer, a veteran actor beginning rehearsals of a play. She is an attractive, middle-aged African American woman with an outgoing personality. She made a career out of playing stereotypical black roles but aspires to be cast in parts more deserving of her rich talents. Initially, she readily gives advice to John Nevins, a novice actor, on how to ingratiate oneself, to stay on good terms with the management no matter how loathsome the production may be. When rehearsals begin, however, she cannot adhere to such a strategy. Her white director uses tactics that humiliate her, and the script calls for the black characters to make statements and perform actions that offend her racial pride. Con-sequently, Wiletta becomes an outspoken critic of the production.

Al Manners

Al Manners, a theatrical director in his early forties, working on his first Broadway show. He is an energetic, confident man with a patronizing manner. He unknowingly triggers Wiletta’s critical evaluation of the production by demanding that she find a sense of integrity about her work. Although he considers himself to be a liberal, he treats black and white cast members differently and is insensitive to the objections the black members have concerning the script. As the racial strife becomes more intense, he exposes his own deep-rooted racial biases.

John Nevins

John Nevins, a novice actor. He is an African American college graduate aspiring to rise to the top of his profession. Although he believes his formal training and performances in Off-Broadway plays to be superior to Wiletta’s experience, he condescendingly listens to her advice out of deference to her age and her acquaintance with his mother. As the conflict between Wiletta and the director heightens, he becomes embarrassed by her, viewing her as too racially sensitive and ignorant of contemporary acting methods. Aligning himself with the director and the white cast members, he attempts to appease Wiletta without fully considering the validity of her complaints.

Millie Davis

Millie Davis, a veteran actor. She is a well-dressed thirty-five-year-old African American woman. Like Wiletta, she has spent her career performing black stock characters, and she readily voices her dissatisfaction concerning dialogue and actions that demean black people. Unlike Wiletta, she stops short of pursuing her objections with the director even when he chooses to ignore her opinions or provides a patronizing response. She is willing to sacrifice her dignity for the job she needs.

Sheldon Forrester

Sheldon Forrester, a veteran actor. An elderly, poorly educated black man, he embodies the Uncle Tom stereotype. He fawns on the director and criticizes Wiletta for disrupting rehearsals with her racial complaints. He has held such an obsequious posture for so long that he is numb to the indignities he and other African Americans suffer in the profession. He may be more than he appears; he may be only playing a role that pleases white people as a means of survival.

Judith (Judy) Sears

Judith (Judy) Sears, a novice actor. She is a young, energetic white woman of a privileged background. Thrilled to be in her first professional production since her training at Yale, she is eager to please the director. A liberal, she becomes uncomfortable with some of her dialogue, which uses offensive terms in reference to African Americans. She befriends John, to the dismay of the director and several black cast members.

Bill O’Wray

Bill O’Wray, an old white character actor, the only cast member who has steady work. He insists that he is not prejudiced but is reluctant to have lunch with the black actors. At best he is insensitive, and at worst he is a bigot.

Characters

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