Review: Lee shines as Paul Roberson in Essential Theatre production

Photo Courtesy FAMU Essential Theatre

Florida A&M’s Essential Theatre staged a virtual reading of “Paul Roberson Loyalty to Convictions: A One-Man Show” featuring Fred D. Lee, Jr. This play began at 7:30 p.m. Friday and was a live production that was streamed on Facebook Live.

The virtual doors of the theater opened at 7, in which a detailed presentation of the history of Roberson was shown. It showcased the fact that Roberson was an actor, activist, scholar and singer.

Starting promptly at 7:30 p.m., the reading was held in FAMU’s Charles Winter Wood theater where Fred Douglass Lee, Jr., who portrayed Roberson, walked in and began to read.

Although a reading, it was obvious that Lee, a FAMU alum living in Tallahassee, was familiar with every line on the page. This could be seen through his casual demeanor of conversation and use of his hands to display the importance of each line, all while still sitting still.

All scenes of this reading were given behind a podium while Lee sat and let his words give us a performance that was nothing less than thorough. Although he sat in this one place throughout each scene, which were introduced by Monica R. Woods, the scene changes were felt.

Lee delivered a powerful reading whenRobersons character was displayed as a man who carried a multi-faceted personality. Lee showed a serious demeanor with a hint of self-respect and humor.

It was as if Lee had an audience of thousands in front of him as he rose to deliver powerful musical numbers throughout the reading.

One scene that stood out was the musical performance of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Lee’s baritone described the personal struggles that Roberson was going through in his life. This song, describing the loneliness of Roberson, could be felt through the computer screen as Lee’s tone brought the story being told to life.

The live piano production during the reading made it more of a production than just a reading. This live musical direction represented the ambience of each scene, so that it felt as if the audience was being moved to that scene as well.

The piano production came back into each scene with powerful stories being read and resonating songs being delivered by Lee. It served as the defining factor of the Essential Theatres commitment to creating a production that would properly give the story of Roberson along with the purpose behind its creation.

The music was a perfect match to every scene, giving the audience the feeling that Roberson felt. With a piano, mostly played in a bass that matched Lees tone throughout the play. If you were to listen closely behind each word that was said, this piano was giving its own story along with the reading that made it just as exciting as if this were the production of a play.

Playwright Karla M. Johnson brought Robersons story alive through the words that were chosen for this reading along with the thoroughness of the portrayal of his story. Lee was the perfect fit for this story, displaying the passion and pain that Roberson carried in his life.

Johnson made sure to address every aspect of Robersons life, whether that be an interview with the dean of his alma mater to show his scholarly talents, the conversation that he had with his father to show his internal struggles, or the meeting that he had with President Truman to show his rigor as a political activist.

The end of the reading showed the proud character of Roberson, who lived a life with no regrets. Ending with a powerful statement about personal sacrifices Roberson made on behalf of the African American community, this play resonated with today’s fractured society. With African Americans forced to endure a multitude of blatant injustices, this production served as a reminder that FAMUs theater program is in fact, essential.

The second and final live production of this reading — the Essential Theatre’s first production of the semester — takes place at 7:30 tonight on Facebook Live. Visit