Wednesday, April 22, 2020

46. BLACK GIRL. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Louise Stubb, Arthur French, Kishasha, Gloria Edwards.
 "In Lieu of Reviews"

For background on how this previously unpublished series—introducing all mainstream New York shows between 1970 and 1975—came to be and its relationship to my three The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage volumes (covering every New York play, musical, revue, and revival between 1920 and 1950), please check the prefaces to any of the earlier entries beginning with the letter “A.” See the list at the end of the current entry.

Minnie Gentry (standing), Louise Stubbs.
BLACK GIRL [Drama/Family/Race/Southern/Youth] A: J.E. Franklin; D: Shauneille Perry; S: Charles Mills; C: Femi; L: Buddy; P: Henry Street Settlement’s New Federal Theatre; T:Theatre de Lys (OB); 6/16/71-1/16/72 (234)

Originally staged Off-Off Broadway at the New Federal Theatre, Black Girl did quite well for itself in a respectable Off Broadway mounting.

Set in a small Texas town, the hour-long, episodic play zeroes in on the dilemma of a 17-year-old black girl, Billie Jean (Kishasha), who aspires to leave the ghetto squalor to become a ballet dancer. Her dreams, though, are mocked by two of her elder sisters, for whom such escape smacks of impossibility. The aid of a foster sister, who has just completed college, finally provides the means for Billie Jean’s release.

This naturalistic drama, though flawed, received much commendation for its “splintered, harsh and bright” insights and “air of honesty” (Clive Barnes), its biting and original use of language and excellent cast (Walter Kerr), its “raw gut humor” (Jerry Tallmer), and its “striking cast of characters” and “swift, compelling flare-ups of violence” (John Simon).

Drawbacks, however, included an overly passive central character and too heavy a reliance on description rather than revelation through action, according to Kerr. Simon faulted it for lacking “rising action, the interplay of humdrum complexities that leads from the flatnesses to the culminations.” He also was one of the few to criticize the acting ensemble (which included stalwarts like Arthur French and Minnie Gentry) but even he agreed with the consensus that Louise Stubbs, as Billie Jean’s mother, was outstanding.

Playwright J.E. Franklin won the Drama Desk Award for Most Promising Playwright.

Previous entries:

Abelard and Heloise
Absurd Person Singular
“Acrobats” and “Line”
The Advertisement/
All My Sons
All Over
All Over Town
All the Girls Came Out to Play
Alpha Beta
L’Amante Anglais         
American Gothics
And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little       
And They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers
And Whose Little Boy Are You?
Anna K.
Anne of Green Gables
Any Resemblance to Persons Living or Dead
As You Like It
The Au Pair Man

Baba Goya [Nourish the Beast]
The Ballad of Johnny Pot
Barbary Shore
The Bar that Never Closes
The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel
The Beauty Part
The Beggar’s Opera
Behold! Cometh the Vanderkellens
Be Kind to People Week
Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill
Bette Midler’s Clams on a Half-Shell Revue
The Birthday Party