This has been a banner winter for plays leaving their stage roots and turning into film and TV adaptations. In the cinema we've had Evita, I'm Not Rappaport, The Substance Of Fire and Marvin's Room. In January, Carson McCullers' Member Of The Wedding was broadcast on USA Network, and now David Feldshuh's poignant drama, Miss Evers' Boys, will begin airing on HBO cable television network Feb. 22, with further showings March 2, 6, 8, 11 and 16.
Feldshuh's 1989 drama tells of a U.S. Government program, begun in 1932 and continued for 40 years, which studied the effects of syphillis on 400 poor black men. These men were never told they had the disease, nor that they were the subjects of a study. Only 127 survived. In Feldshuh's play, the title character is an African-American public health nurse who participates in the study.
A co-production of HBO NYC and Anasazi Productions, Miss Evers' Boys stars Alfre Woodard as the nurse and Laurence Fishburne as a patient. Woodard's films include Passion Fish and Primal Fear. Fishburne, a Tony winner for Two Trains Running, received an Oscar nomination for starring as Ike Turner in What's Love Got To Do With It?.
Also in the cast are Ossie Davis, Craig Sheffer and Joe Morton (film's Lone Star). Joe Sargent directs the piece, which was adapted for the screen by Walter Bernstein.
Playwright Feldshuh, artistic director of Cornell's Center For Theatre Arts, praised the HBO production for its "first-class dedication to quality. In the best way, the experience reminded me of doing theatre. The movie takes us to Macon County and brings us a detail of reality you don't try for on stage. Theatre is much more selective about what it's going to show. The movie provides interesting psychological nuances from the characters with the use of close-ups that you can't always get on stage. I believe the actors and crew were doing this project, in part, because they felt this was a story they wanted to tell." Feldshuh also said the film further developed a love story between Evers and one of her patients. "Nurse Evers is a tragic figure, caught between her duty to the nursing profession and the love she felt for her patients." A 45-minute video, "Susceptible To Kindness: Miss Evers' Boys And The Tuskegee Syphillis Study," has been used at Cornell Medical College and other schools to examine issues of race, class and ethics. The video features scenes from the play and interviews with medical experts and social scientists.
Miss Evers' Boys serves as "the cornerstone" of HBO's Black History Month programming. The show played Off-Broadway and at Baltimore's Center Stage, with K. Todd Freeman and Delroy Lindo, Nov. 1989.
--By David Lefkowitz