Chronicling the plight of three African-American entertainers at pivotal points in history, Darian Dauchan’s one-man show “Entertainer’s Eulogy” blends entertainment with education at the Kitchen Theatre.
Dauchan wrote the script and is the sole actor in “Entertainer’s Eulogy.” He first wrote the show “Fallen Patriots” in college about three African-Americans fighting in three different wars. In 2004 he then wrote “Entertainer’s Eulogy.” Dauchan said the characters’ journeys and struggle in “Entertainer’s Eulogy” parallel one another even in different time periods.
The show opens with Rocco “Crazy Legs” Thorton, a street performer in 1918 who joins a minstrel show in hopes of becoming famous. It is this desire for fame and fortune that proves to be the tragic flaw of all three characters in “Entertainer’s Eulogy.”
Dauchan said he felt it was imperative to find the perfect juxtaposition of eras so that his characters would embody the changing roles of African-American entertainers in society, from comedic relief in minstrel shows to sports icons.
“Particularly, the early 1900s are important because the minstrel show put a stamp on African-American entertainment and was, in a way, the beginning of it all,” Dauchan said.
Having grown up in a home filled with the music of Marvin Gaye and other Motown artists, Dauchan created the character Lonnie Davis, or “The Original Smooth Operator,” who finds himself surrounded by a superficial entourage and as a result loses his sense of reality in 1976.
The show closes with the story of Theo “The Chef” Johnson, a middle-weight boxing champion in 1989. Remembering the reigns of Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali, Dauchan said he drew from personal experiences of watching the boxers when molding a story line for Theo.
Dauchan said he connects with all three characters, not only as an African-American artist, but also as a person with dreams, fears and bad habits.
Lesley Greene, the Kitchen Theatre’s associate producing director, said the format of “Entertainer’s Eulogy” is different from most one-man shows.
“Audiences can expect an interesting story based on historical research, brilliant acting and really stunning visuals, as well,” she said. “There are beautiful short film segments, so it’s a multimedia experience.”
Though the show follows the tragedies of African-American entertainers, there are also lighter moments. Dauchan said he incorporated his sense of humor into the script.
“I don’t want to be a downer,” he said. “I want to create pieces people can be moved by and talk about at the end of the night.”
Margarett Perry, the director of the show, said she was eager to work with Dauchan again because of his uplifting personality and creativity. In 2007, Dauchan acted in Perry’s “Media Madness.”
“Darian is an artist with a lot to say, and I am inspired when I have the opportunity to collaborate with him,” she said. “The title may sound serious, but the play is very funny.”
Dauchan said his eulogy is a timely piece in today’s world of over-exposed celebrities. He said he hopes the show will make aspiring entertainers think twice before entering the business so that they don’t get caught in the world of tabloid journalism. Ultimately, Dauchan said he thinks staying grounded and having a tough skin is the only way to adjust to the world of stardom.
Despite the show’s focus on African-American artists’ struggles, Perry said this is a show that college students can relate to, regardless of background or interest.
“Theater at it’s best makes us laugh, cry and think, and this is the kind of play that can do all three,” she said.
Greene said she believes this show will be a success because Dauchan is such an extraordinary performer.
“Our audience of Ithaca is full of people interested in new things and new ideas,” Greene said. “We say at the Kitchen Theatre ‘Important conversations happen in the kitchen.’ Every show we do is a conversation starter, and this show will certainly be that.”
“Entertainer’s Eulogy” will be playing at 7:30 p.m. tonight, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday at the Kitchen Theatre Company in Ithaca, N.Y. Student discount tickets and student rush tickets are available for all four performances.