Friday, April 24, 2020

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 From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Preston Bradley, Paul Benjamin, Don Blakely Dolores Vanison, Freda Vanterpool, Kirk Young.
 "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For background on how this previously unpublished series—introducing all mainstream New York shows between 1970 and 1975—came to be and its relationship to my three The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage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.

Kain, Paul Benjamin, Susan Batson.
THE BLACK TERROR [Drama/Politics/Race] A: Richard Wesley; D: Nathan George; S: Marjorie Kellogg; C: Edna Watson; L: Buddy; CH: Bob Johnson; P: New York Shakespeare Festival; T: Public Theater/Other Stage (OB): 11/10/71-3/20/72 (180)

The time is in the “near future.” Black revolutionaries are operating in terrorist guerilla groups, killing off their white oppressors. Kensi (Kain), a black Vietnam vet with a crossbow, assassinates a police commissioner. He hesitates, however, at fulfilling his next assignment, the slaying of a moderate black leader whose aims conflict with those of the terrorists. His refusal precipitates the argument of this polemical drama—is violence the most valid way for the oppressed to rectify their grievances?

Kensi’s girlfriend M’Bahlia (Susan Batson) is fire-breathing radical who is among those strongl in favor of the bloodshed. Kensi’s other chief opponent is a rabid revolutionary named Geronimo (Don Blakely). In the end, the girl herself carries out the killing of the black leader, a man who, it is learned, is actually her own father. He breaks loose and the white establishment begins the systematic destruction of American blacks.

Richard Wesley’s provocative melodrama intrigued many critics but was shelled by a small minority. Most of the positive reviews were glad to see how objectively the author had treated his material. Clive Barnes complimented the “strong and forceful” writing and character depiction. Dick Brukenfeld suggested that dramatizing these issues “might, in fact, be saving lives.” And Henry Hewes felt that the work emerged “as a remarkably genuine and deeply frightening statement.”

Those responding with multiple reservations included Douglas Watt (“a wordy and contrived first play as melodramatic as its title might suggest”) and Martin Gottfried, who declared that it would never have been produced if it had been written by a white man. He added that it was “typical of too much black theatre: Naturalistic, melodramatic and built on a framework of ideological argument rather than characterization, plotting or dramatic tension.” Repelled by the “amateurish” proceedings, John Simon called The Black Terror “a boringly predictable, dry-as-dust in spite of its blood-and-thunder rhetoric, political tract.”

Gottfried and Simon denigrated the acting and direction but the remaining critics were considerably kinder to the mounting, especially to Susan Batson and the one-name actor Kain. The latter, in fact, won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance.

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
Black Girl
Black Light Theatre of Prague
Black Picture Show
Black Sunlight