Thursday, May 27, 2021

572. WAITING FOR MONGO. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Bill Cobbs, Adolph Caesar, Graham Brown, Samm-Art Williams. (Photo: Bert Andrews.)
WAITING FOR MONGO [Comedy/Fantasy/Race/Southern] A: Silas Jones; D: Douglas Turner Ward; S/C: Mary Mease Warren; L: Sandra L. Ross; P: Negro Ensemble Company; T: St. Marks Playhouse (OB); 5/18/75-6/15/75 (16)

Silas Jones’s “nightmare comedy,” as he called it, examines the plight of a simple, young Black man, Virgil (Reyno). He is believed by the white folks of Deliverance, Mississippi, to have raped a white girl. In consequence, Virgil shelters in a church basement where he spends the frightened moments as a lynch mob gathers outside. He fantasizes that he will be saved by Black Freedom army, led by Mongo, when it launches its invasion of the South.

Virgil imagines his boot to be a field telephone and talks to his wished-for savior on its wave length. The preacher of the church (Bill Cobbs) takes the role of the heroic Mongo in his dreams. Scenes of reality involving various Black townspeople alternate with Virgil’s hallucinations. In the former, the author introduces two amusing female gossips (Babe Drake Hooks and Barbara Montgomery), a teacher (Ethel Ayler), and others. In the end, the KKK captures Virgil and lynches him.

The play’s attempt at contrasting illusion with reality was obvious, but Jones’s technique failed to clear up all ambiguities for Edith Oliver and several others. The effect was mildly confusing. Mel Gussow enjoyed the spectacle of certain Black stereotypes being satirized as a covert danger to other Blacks.

Adolph Caesar and Samm-Art Williams were in the cast.

Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on by clicking here. 

Next up: The Web and the Rock.