Ode to Michael Benjamin Washington


Only those associated with the stage and avid play enthusiasts may be aware of his talent. Only historians, followers of the early Civil Rights Movement, and La Jolla Playhouse (LJP) attendees may be familiar with the Bayard Rustin that he recreates on stage. Any lack of appropriate recognition should soon change for Michael Benjamin Washington and the overlooked giant he plays.

Washington, who appeared in the Tony-winning, LJP production Memphis, returned to La Jolla last month on a mission to remove the man who organized the 1963 March on Washington, civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, out of the shadows. In so doing, the playwright and actor casts an immense ellipsoidal spot on his own writing and performance capabilities.

Washington, with the assistance of a talented cast, employs his Blue Prints to Freedom: An Ode to Bayard Rustin to artfully present an encapsulated biography of the man who taught Martin Luther King Jr. the principles of non-violent resistance and civil disobedience. Rustin’s rightful place in history has been obscured, because he was openly gay and considered a communist sympathizer. Washington convinces us—should we need a prod—that Rustin and countless other courageous people like him deserve to be respected for their talents, abilities and achievements; not vilified for their differences.

With this apparent goal in mind, Washington has crafted a powerful play, bursting with artful and nuanced dialogue, and a dramatic platform upon which to transform himself into a stunning recreation of Rustin.

The play moves to Kansas City this month. Its next stop should be Broadway.


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