Playwright Michael Tee.

Ida B. Wells In Louisville

By Michael Tee

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Sometimes the task of reviewing poses special challenges. Community Control Now is a new theatre company…or is it? The mission seems to be community organization and activism and theatre is a tool to further both the functional and ideological agenda.

Playwright Michael Tee identifies as part of the Black radical theatre tradition, which originates in the 1930s Federal Theatre Project under Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, a period rife with opposition to the traditional models. Watching his newest play, I could easily imagine it catching the eye of FTP director Hallie Flanagan and getting funding for a tour through the Midwest.  

Ida B. Wells In Louisville concerns the internecine conflict among the organizers of a activist’s convention happening in Louisville in 1905. A faction representing the famous Booker T. Washington is viewed as overly-conciliatory and Black woman journalist Ida B. Wells is a member of an opposition group that takes a much more aggressive stand on racial injustice. A series of scenes introduces characters and establishes some context before arriving at the climactic events at the convention, including the threat of violence.

Any overall sense of narrative in the text is undermined by the unorthodox venue of a church sanctuary with no backstage or theatre lighting. Cues and transitions are inevitably more of a challenge in such a space. The universalist philosophy of the First Unitarian Church may connect with the themes of injustice and social activism, but the setting emphasizes that the production is more a polemic than a play, an observation further spotlighted by representatives of Louisville activists such as Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC) being given the microphone during intermission. As a play, the production lacks shape, but as a polemic, it clearly communicates its intentions.

There’s nothing wrong with that, it just shifts how I might approach writing about it. The play is lit by a powerful follow-spot which makes it visually harsh, although there are some effective costumes borrowed from Commonwealth Theatre Center. The acting is wildly uneven, but Mr. Tee gives the correct, self-righteous presence to Booker T. Washington, and Alex Bradshaw finds authority in playing a White power broker in sympathy to Mr. Washington.

The final moments, however, belong to Ali Gautier as Wells, reading her speech at the convention and summarizing all of the ideas the playwright wants to trigger in our minds. Gautier provides an intelligent but impassioned delivery, bringing home the message and the raison d’être for Ida B. Wells In Louisville.

So I’ll grant that this is good and important work with an important message for Louisville as a community, I just wish it was better theatre.

Featuring Alex Bradshaw, Weston Bradshaw, Kinisha Carey, Nikki Doty-Heumann, Deajanae Elliot, Bilal Gant, Ali Gautier, Vincent Gonzalez, Jesse Gonzales, Journey Guyton-Gonzalez, Mahlon Heumann, Jamie McGloin-King, & Michael Tee.

Ida B. Wells In Louisville

April 7 & 8, 2023
April 15 as part of KFTC Day

Community Control Now, Louisville
First Unitarian Church
809 South 4th Street
Louisville, KY 40202  

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM /, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for