“Hattie McDaniel: What I Need To Know”

“Hattie McDaniel: What I Need To Know”at Fort Mason

Carol Benet

“Hattie McDaniel: What I Need To Know”, a one-woman musical play performed by Vickilyn Reynolds, is  currently at Fort Mason, Building D, 3rd Floor next to the  Magic Theatre.

Reynolds impersonates the singer/actress Hattie McDaniel who won an Academy Award for supporting actress in her role as the maid in “Gone With the Wind” in 1939.  She was the first African American woman to have such an honor. She was also the first to appear on radio and later played in the popular radio series “Beulah”.

Throughout the two hour show with one intermission there are videos of early scenes, first with her acceptance speech for winning the Academy Award and then pictures of her brother Otis and the rest of her family.   Reynolds tells and sings  the story of Hattie’s life and career.

A stage is set to represent different parts of the story:  her home where she grew up, a park bench, a set of stairs outside the house, a nightclub.  Byron Nora directed and created lighting and sets with the help of the carpenter William “Bill” Jackson.  Hattie wears a variety of costumes (Kevin Mays and Mylette Nora) that take her from the bedroom to the stage.  Her glitzy gold gown for her stage debut when she sang a wonderful “When the Saints Go Marching In” is spectacular with all the shiny reflection.

Hattie was born in  1895 and was the last child of 13 from a union of a former slave, her father and her cultured mother who met him while  she accompanied him on the piano when he was giving a singing/ sermon at the Baptist church.  Her mother wanted Hattie to stay in school and study, but Hattie had other ideas for she was stage-struck.  We go though the various eras of the musical stage in America with her from vaudeville, to the flapper age and then to the jazz/blues.  Reynolds can belt out a song and do a few dances along with her singing and her large frame enhances the dramatic effect.

Hattie had four husbands but no children although she experienced a false pregnancy whose details she acts out.  There are lots of other details in her life that could do with a bit of  editing because the show  is about 30 minutes too long and even Reynolds suffers from overuse of her voice and she sometimes has trouble remembering the many lines in the  long script. Less would be more in this case.

The show is a family affair with Vickilyn’s husband A. Lee Reynolds as the executive producer,  a son Vincent who assists with lighting and spotlights and his wife who sells colorful jewelry in the lobby.  Albe Reynolds II, assistant stage manager to Alyssa Champs, also looks like he is in the family.  Several of these people  have been with the show since 2007.

“Hattie McDaniel: What I Need To Know” has already played on the East Coast in Philadelphia and Harlem. Vickilyn has won many performance awards.  After this West Coast premiere in San Francisco, they hope to  travel to Los Angeles and stage it there.  It serves as an American history lesson, one that tells about the difficulties that African Americans endured in the first half of the 20th century in order to  be accepted on the stage and in movies.

The show only plays Friday through Sunday, June 24 at Fort Mason with two shows on the weekend at 3 and 8 p.m.  415 345 7500 or richrey55@gmail.com.

 

About the Author

Carol BenetCarol Benet received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she won an Outstanding Teaching Award. She also received a B.A. in English and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. Her teaching assignments have been at UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley Extension, Dominican University and Washington State University. Currently she holds literature discussion groups in Marin County and San Francisco and is a critic of the arts for The Ark Newspaper and a contributor to ARTSSF.com and ForAllEvents.com.View all posts by Carol Benet →