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Review Archive/August 2011

Updated September 2, 2011

Well Done!

Click to Enlarge Old Black Guys Pic!By Jay Whipple/Trend Magazine Online™

This was the first play that I have attended since the one I went to at the Ovens Auditorium in Charlotte, NC, centered on the life and times of my favorite trumpeter Louis Armstrong, back in the 1980’s. My ultimate interest in Satchmo was derived from my brief career as a first trumpeter at Nautilus Junior High and Miami Beach Senior High schools back in the 1970’s. I attended this play during the biennial National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, NC, on Friday August 5, 2011. I chose this play as well because it too struck a familiar chord with my life as a future old Black guy just sitting around talking/shootin da breeze. The venue was the Catawba Theater on the campus of the University of North School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, NC. Since then I have completed a college-level course in the theater and finally got a chance to put it to good use for this review.

This play is produced by the Penumbra Theatre Company of St. Paul, Minnesota, which was founded by Click to Enlarge Lou Bellamy Pic!African-American Artistic Director Lou Bellamy to create a forum for African-American voices in the Twin Cities' well-respected theater community. Mr. Bellamy also directs this play that was written by Gus Edwards (Also African-American) and stars James Craven as Abe and Abdul Salaam El Razzac as Henry – the two old Black guys.

[Lou Bellamy]

Clcik to Enlarge Gus Edwards Pic!The theater was small and quaint and featured stadium type seating on three sides of center stage.  The set was very simple and consisted of a wooden park bench, a black wire-rimmed circular steel  public trash can -- with a few discarded plastic bottles at the bottom, a short grey utility post with meter, black curtains, and another discarded plastic bottle lying around on the floor. The sold out audience consisted mostly

[Gus Edwards

Click to Enlarge James Craven Pic!of older educated women with a few older men in their company. There was one big guy that looked like a linebacker for the Miami Dolphins who looked a bit out of place.

I sat at the top right of the center stadium seating to get a birds-eye view of the actors as well as the

[ James Craven

Click to Enlarge Abdul-Salaam Pic!audience. The play was conducted in two acts and seven scenes. The scheduled start time was 3 PM but the performance did not get going until about 3:25 PM. The first act was attention-grabbing as one of the old Black guys waddled his way on stage and began to go through a series of light calisthenics’ designed to accomplish nothing but a good chuckle. In act one scene one it was well established that these

[ Abdul-Salaam

two old Black guys did not like each other and to boot they dated the same women that Abe ended up marrying. In act one scene two more details were revealed concerning the nameless woman each one dated and their relations with her. We also learned that she was deceased. Act one scene three culminated in a near brawl between Abe and Henry which was quite humorous. The topic of dying dominated act one scene four.

During the intermission I listened carefully for an audience reaction up to that point but all I got was folks chattering about extraneous stuff.  Act two, scene one was a pivotal point in the play which cemented the fact that these old Black guys -- who did not really like each other – actually needed each other to survive after Henry faked a two week trip to Coral Gables Florida to get away from Abe. It also established the fact that he was a bit racist towards Cuban-Americans. Henry suffered a heart attack in act two, scene two, which caused Abe to go into a bit of frenzy at the thought of losing his now best friend. In act two, scene three they both had come to the conclusion that they were indeed friends and sealed that revelation with a toast of wine.

This play was well written and directed and caused me to stop and think about my future as an old Black guy who will hopefully be able to sit around and talk to another old Black guy about our lives during our twilight years. It took me a few acts to really get into the character of Abe who at times over-acted (Like Charles Dutton’s Rock character) his lines but he over-came that by producing some of the most humorous lines in the two-hour play. Henry (Abdul) miscued on a few lines but was pretty smooth throughout the entire play.  The set was pretty simple which allowed the audience to concentrate more on the characters, and the lighting worked well to do the same. The background sounds at times were a bit distracting as it was hard to imagine kids playing near an assisted-living facility for seniors. I am still in awe as how they changed the sets between acts in complete darkness as there were no curtains.

Overall it was a great production and I would highly recommend this play for all men and women – young and old – to obtain a birds-eye glimpse into the future of the aging process and how our pass will ultimately shape our future. It also lends credence to the clichés’ that what goes around comes around, and you reap what you sow.

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