Review: ‘The Talented Tenth’

The Talented Tenth (The Hudson Avenue Theater; 99 seats; $ 20 top) Portage Road Entertainment Inc. & the Hudson Group present a play in two acts by Richard Wesley, directed by Oz Scott. Executive producer, Claudette Roche; producer, Leigh McLeod Fortier; associate producer, Lydia Hannibal. Set design, Victoria Profitt; lighting design, Vess Weaver; costume design, Arline Burks Gant. Opened and reviewed Jan. 10; runs until Feb. 16. Running time: 2 hours, 50 min. Cast: Clifton Powell (Bernard), Robert Guillaume (Sam Griggs), Claudette Roche (Pam), Samaria Graham (Tanya), Juanita Jennings (Rowena), Basil Wallace (Marvin), Ellis E. Williams (Ron), Jon Clair (Young Man). Playwright Richard Wesley's overly long and redundant message-driven chronicle delves into the lives of a group of successful, black baby boomers who appear to be falling short of the mandate set forth by the great educator W.E.B. DuBois when he predicted his people would be saved by the "talented tenth" (of the Negro race) who, by education and exceptional ability, will be made "leaders of thought and ministers of culture." Wesley is determined to make his point no matter how much time it takes. Despite deeply committed performances by an exceptional ensemble, director Oz Scott fails to create a fluid shape to the work, allowing each of the 21 scenes to statically state and re-state the plight of angst-driven broadcast executive Bernard (Clifton Powell), who, at age 41, is haunted by the ghosts of his civil rights activist days at Howard University when he marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and deeply loved a truly committed activist who died for the cause. Powell effectively communicates Bernard's frustration, guilt and alienation as he observes with increasing despair that he and his fellow upwardly mobile former college buddies have bought wholeheartedly into the "white man's dream" of material success and have distanced themselves from the struggles and ideals of their people. He also exudes the sensual magnetism that makes believable his professional success and the admiration exhibited by his wife (Claudette Roche) and mistress (Samaria Graham). Emmy Award-winner Robert Guillaume ("Benson") offers a crusty, no-nonsense presence as Sam Briggs, the successful black business pioneer who serves as both Bernard's mentor and nemesis. Guillaume is able to make believable Wesley's often self-conscious, preachy dialogue. Roche is perfect as Bernard's light-skinned, aristocratic wife, Pam, who exhibits a depth of strength and character missing in her husband. Also deserving of praise is Juanita Jennings' Rowena, the formerly poor, Southern black girl who refuses to apologize for the material success she has achieved as a businesswoman. One of the true highlights of this work is the cathartic confrontation between Pam and Rowena as they reveal that the wounds of prejudice can be inflicted just as deeply by members of one's race as they can from those outside it. As Bernard's college buddies, Marvin and Ron, respectively, Basil Wallace and Ellis E. Williams offer solid support. In fact, Williams is often hilarious as the would-be entrepreneur who has embraced capitalism with a vengeance. Jennings offers a thoroughly sensual presence as Bernard's young mistress but never achieves a level of comfort with her lines. At times, it appears she is making a speech rather than having a conversation. In his brief appearance, Jon Clair is properly enthusiastic and callow as Bernard's just-graduated son. The design elements are a minus in this production. Victoria Profitt's modular set pieces are clunky and often impede the action; and Vess Weaver's lighting was barely functional. On the other hand, Arline Burks Gant's costumes were wonderfully evocative of the characters' nouveau riche. Julio Martinez

The Talented Tenth (The Hudson Avenue Theater; 99 seats; $ 20 top) Portage Road Entertainment Inc. & the Hudson Group present a play in two acts by Richard Wesley, directed by Oz Scott. Executive producer, Claudette Roche; producer, Leigh McLeod Fortier; associate producer, Lydia Hannibal. Set design, Victoria Profitt; lighting design, Vess Weaver; costume design, Arline Burks Gant. Opened and reviewed Jan. 10; runs until Feb. 16. Running time: 2 hours, 50 min. Cast: Clifton Powell (Bernard), Robert Guillaume (Sam Griggs), Claudette Roche (Pam), Samaria Graham (Tanya), Juanita Jennings (Rowena), Basil Wallace (Marvin), Ellis E. Williams (Ron), Jon Clair (Young Man). Playwright Richard Wesley’s overly long and redundant message-driven chronicle delves into the lives of a group of successful, black baby boomers who appear to be falling short of the mandate set forth by the great educator W.E.B. DuBois when he predicted his people would be saved by the “talented tenth” (of the Negro race) who, by education and exceptional ability, will be made “leaders of thought and ministers of culture.” Wesley is determined to make his point no matter how much time it takes. Despite deeply committed performances by an exceptional ensemble, director Oz Scott fails to create a fluid shape to the work, allowing each of the 21 scenes to statically state and re-state the plight of angst-driven broadcast executive Bernard (Clifton Powell), who, at age 41, is haunted by the ghosts of his civil rights activist days at Howard University when he marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and deeply loved a truly committed activist who died for the cause. Powell effectively communicates Bernard’s frustration, guilt and alienation as he observes with increasing despair that he and his fellow upwardly mobile former college buddies have bought wholeheartedly into the “white man’s dream” of material success and have distanced themselves from the struggles and ideals of their people. He also exudes the sensual magnetism that makes believable his professional success and the admiration exhibited by his wife (Claudette Roche) and mistress (Samaria Graham). Emmy Award-winner Robert Guillaume (“Benson”) offers a crusty, no-nonsense presence as Sam Briggs, the successful black business pioneer who serves as both Bernard’s mentor and nemesis. Guillaume is able to make believable Wesley’s often self-conscious, preachy dialogue. Roche is perfect as Bernard’s light-skinned, aristocratic wife, Pam, who exhibits a depth of strength and character missing in her husband. Also deserving of praise is Juanita Jennings’ Rowena, the formerly poor, Southern black girl who refuses to apologize for the material success she has achieved as a businesswoman. One of the true highlights of this work is the cathartic confrontation between Pam and Rowena as they reveal that the wounds of prejudice can be inflicted just as deeply by members of one’s race as they can from those outside it. As Bernard’s college buddies, Marvin and Ron, respectively, Basil Wallace and Ellis E. Williams offer solid support. In fact, Williams is often hilarious as the would-be entrepreneur who has embraced capitalism with a vengeance. Jennings offers a thoroughly sensual presence as Bernard’s young mistress but never achieves a level of comfort with her lines. At times, it appears she is making a speech rather than having a conversation. In his brief appearance, Jon Clair is properly enthusiastic and callow as Bernard’s just-graduated son. The design elements are a minus in this production. Victoria Profitt’s modular set pieces are clunky and often impede the action; and Vess Weaver’s lighting was barely functional. On the other hand, Arline Burks Gant’s costumes were wonderfully evocative of the characters’ nouveau riche. Julio Martinez

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 0

Leave a Reply

No Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

More Film News from Variety

Loading