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Don Evans, 65; Plays Focused on Lives of African Americans

October 25, 2003|From a Times Staff Writer

Don Evans, a member of the Black Arts movement of the 1960s and '70s whose plays about the African American experience were produced in repertory theaters throughout the United States and Europe, has died. He was 65.

Evans, who taught African American studies at the College of New Jersey in Ewing for 30 years, died of a heart attack Oct. 16 in his home in Merchantville, N.J.

Among Evans' best-known plays are "It's Showdown Time," a ribald, contemporary urban version of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew"; "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show," a comedy with serous undertones about a handsome, divorced nightclub owner who suddenly finds himself the guardian of his deceased partner's daughter; and "A Lovesong for Miss Lydia," about a septuagenarian widow and the aggressively flattering man who answers her ad for a boarder.

"I see myself writing in the tradition of Shaw and Moliere," Evans told the New York Times in 1980. "I'm very much aware that I come from a street tradition, but my work came about because of writers I love, especially Shakespeare."

By then, he had directed many plays at colleges and universities.

"I've always tried to make college theater something multiracial and multicultural -- a living art form," he said. "But no one pays serious attention to black college kids who love the theater. They perform in isolated groups. In terms of craft, their work isn't seriously appraised.

"What's painful is that all artists are part of a nonracial community. If you're good, you're good, and you should be evaluated, irrespective of race."

A Philadelphia native, Evans served in the Marine Corps and graduated from what is now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania in 1962. At Temple University, he received his master's degree in 1968 and a master of fine arts degree in 1972.

Evans directed the college theater at Cheyney, then joined the faculty at Trenton State College -- now the College of New Jersey -- in 1972 as an associate professor of African American studies. He later served as department chairman.

Evans was a board member of the National Shakespeare Committee and a founder of the Players Company of Trenton.

He also was an adjunct professor at Princeton, a visiting professor of theater arts at Rutgers University and lecturer and director of workshops for the United States Information Agency in India.

Evans, who was divorced, is survived by two sons, Todd, of Willingboro, N.J., and Orrin, of Philadelphia; a daughter, Rachel Marianno of Pennsauken, N.J.; his mother, Mary Evans of Philadelphia; and seven grandchildren.

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