Ceremonies in Dark Old Men

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A: Lonne Elder III Pf: 1969, New York Pb: 1969 G: Trag. in 2 acts S: Small barbershop, Harlem, 1960s C: 5m, 2fRussell B. Parker is a 54-year-old African-American widower, with a daughter Adele and two sons Theopolis and Bobby. He notionally runs a barbershop below his apartment, but hardly ever has a customer, so Adele has to go out to work to feed the family (‘who the hell ever told every black woman she was some kind of God damn saviour!’). Theopolis suggests that his confederate Blue Haven, a militant black leader and former killer, should sell bootleg whisky from the barbershop. Adele is furious at the men for their scheme and will have nothing to do with it. Theopolis asserts that there is no ‘place where there are no old crippled vaudeville men’, but Adele insists that ‘you climb out of it!’ Two months later, business is booming: the men, now wearing fine clothes (except for Theopolis who does most of the work), assemble for Blue to arrive. He comes with their money and quietly notes that Parker has been helping himself to the till. Blue wants to make Parker President of his ‘Harlem De-Colonization Association’ and to organize a demonstration in Harlem to boycott a white-owned store. In fact, it is the night-time raids of Blue's gang, in which Bobby is involved, that are getting the stores closed down. Bobby is killed by a nightwatchman, but Theopolis and Adele cannot bring themselves to tell their father, who now admits that in his barbershop he just ‘acted out the ceremony of a game’.

A: Lonne Elder III Pf: 1969, New York Pb: 1969 G: Trag. in 2 acts S: Small barbershop, Harlem, 1960s C: 5m, 2f

A milestone in the development of African-American drama, this play, offering an authentic, often unflattering, but wholly sympathetic view of urban blacks, was premiered by the Negro Ensemble Company, and was one of the first plays to be written for an entirely black audience rather than trying to appeal to white theatregoers. The wastrel father, the long-suffering woman, and the background of political danger leading to the son's death are reminiscent of O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).

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