You will be redirected back to your article in seconds


Jeff Stetson's sprawling, sometimes awkward, always provocative work tackles the great subject of generational neglect.

Charles Lincoln - Roger Robinson
Paul Stanton - Rocky Carroll
Rev. Benjamin Franklin Wilcox - Harvy Blanks
With: Robert Gossett, Nasir Najieb, Mel Winkler, William Allen Young.

The title of Ebony Repertory’s latest offering, “Fraternity,” doesn’t just refer to the exclusive men’s club at which Birmingham’s fat cats of color wheel and deal while the Reagan boom years wind down. It also conjures up the brotherhood ideal to which those same men once swore allegiance, back when they were desegregating lunch counters and battling for the common good. Jeff Stetson’s sprawling, sometimes awkward, always provocative work tackles the great subject of generational neglect.

Four burnt-out cases and an older mentor take stock of broken promises in the wake of their glory days. That synopsis of Jason Miller’s Pulitzer-winning “That Championship Season” also applies to Stetson’s 1987 band of plutocrats whose top dog, Alabama State Senator Charles Lincoln (Roger Robinson), is once more confidently up for reelection.

Robustly and even hammily portrayed by Robinson, Lincoln embodies every entrenched pol from Tip O’Neill to Charlie Rangel reveling in seniority and sway. He dominates the clubhouse – so sturdily and elegantly designed by Edward E. Haynes Jr. that you can understand why men would kill to be voted in – suavely pulling strings and calling in favors like the master of “Downton Abbey.”

To his young opponent, former speechwriter Paul Stanton (a sizzling Rocky Carroll), it’s telling that Lincoln refers to black voters as “them.” Stanton calls out his old mentor as one of an army of activists who gradually fell prey to privilege’s perks, leaving the community they originally set out to liberate somehow foundering worse than before.

“How do we get our love back?” he wonders, prompting the one-time freedom fighters – now variously turned editor, real estate broker, preacher and washed-up jazzman – into moody reflections and electric, entertaining confrontations.

Stetson’s talent for pithy insight gets a fine showcase here, as in this boozy disquisition on power: “It shakes its ass at ya’ once or twice, then after you’re in bed together, you ain’t quite sure who did the seducin’….Only one thing’s for sure, it’s a marriage that will produce a lot of ugly babies.”

“Fraternity” gives each side its due, but takes on so much its seams are showing. The evening goes long and occasionally slack, and helmer Henry Miller skirts some necessary levels: Carroll’s inspiring stump speech lacks nuance to justify its inordinate stage time, and characters are too often allowed to chuckle at their own quips, diminishing the sense of danger.

The company is generally strong, though in the key role of a faith-challenged preacher Harvy Blanks is oddly absent, lacking the self-loathing of a haunted churchman eager to mock his own preaching style. A flashback sermon, when the speaker by rights should appear gut-shot, just sits there.

More troubling is Stetson’s exploiting the September 1963 murders of the “4 Little Girls,” immortalized in Spike Lee’s documentary of that name, as the inciting incident in the club members’ slow decline. Music teacher Turk (a brooding, soulful Robert Gossett) is named as one victim’s father, Blanks’ reverend as the bombed 16th St. Baptist Church’s pastor.

But is nothing owed the actual fathers and pastor? Assigning their roles to fictional characters feels wrong, like a case of historical identity theft. Surely Stetson could have given his men a different relationship to the tragedy, or constructed an altogether different race-based horror to serve his emotional and moral purposes without risking insensitivity to such a highly charged real-life event.

Despite reservations, “Fraternity” is a timely, significant achievement which commands the attention of anyone interested in seeing politics brought alive on a live stage. It rewards you considerably for that interest.


Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, Los Angeles; 400 seats; $55 top

Production: An Ebony Repertory Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Jeff Stetson. Directed by Henry Miller.

Creative: Sets, Edward E. Haynes, Jr.; costumes, Wendell C. Carmichael; lighting, Elizabeth Harper; sound, Bob Blackburn. Opened, reviewed Oct. 5, 2012. Runs through Oct. 28. Running time: 2 HOURS, 40 MIN.

Cast: Charles Lincoln - Roger Robinson
Paul Stanton - Rocky Carroll
Rev. Benjamin Franklin Wilcox - Harvy Blanks
With: Robert Gossett, Nasir Najieb, Mel Winkler, William Allen Young.

More Legit

  • By the Way Meet Vera Stark

    Off Broadway Review: 'By the Way, Meet Vera Stark' by Lynn Nottage

    After writing two harrowing Pulitzer Prize-winning plays, “Sweat” and “Ruined,” Lynn Nottage is entitled to have a little fun. But while this revival of her new play, “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark,” walks and talks like a screwball comedy, it has a real brain in its head. Before we get too serious, let’s meet [...]

  • Merrily We Roll AlongRoundabout Theatre CompanyMERRILY

    Off Broadway Review: 'Merrily We Roll Along'

    Like the optimistic youths at the end — or is it the beginning? — of “Merrily We Roll Along,” creatives keep going back to this problematic Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical, re-imagining the show in the hope that the end results will be different this time around. They’re not. But disappointments are often off-set by new [...]

  • My Fair Lady Laura Benanti

    Listen: Laura Benanti on 'My Fair Lady' and the Secret to Her Melania Trump Impersonation

    Laura Benanti is now playing her dream role on Broadway. At the same time, the Tony winner (“Gypsy”) is also playing her toughest part ever. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “It’s the most demanding part I think I’ll probably play,” said Benanti, now appearing as Eliza Doolittle in Lincoln Center Theater’s well-received revival of [...]

  • Hamilton West End Production.

    'Hamilton' Panic Over Mistaken Reports of Gunfire Injures Three in San Francisco

    Three people were injured after mistaken reports of an active shooter at a San Francisco production of “Hamilton” caused attendees to flee the theater. CNN reported that a woman experienced a medical emergency — later determined to be a heart attack — during a scene in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s play wherein Founding Father Alexander Hamilton is shot on [...]

  • The American Clock review

    London Theater Review: 'The American Clock'

    Time is money. Money is time. Both come unstuck in “The American Clock.” Arthur Miller’s kaleidoscopic account of the Great Depression, part autobiography, part social history, crawls through the decade after the Wall Street crash, dishing up snapshots of daily life. In the Old Vic’s classy revival, director Rachel Chavkin (“Hadestown”) tunes into the play’s [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Off Broadway Review: Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Sea Wall/A Life'

    Comfy? Okay, let’s talk Death: sudden death, painful death, lingering death, accidental death, and whatever other kinds of death happen to come into the receptive minds of playwrights Simon Stephens (“Sea Wall”) and Nick Payne (“A Life”). The writing in these separate monologues — playing together on a double bill at the Public Theater — [...]

  • Michael Jackson Estate Cancels Musical Test-Run

    Michael Jackson Estate Cancels Musical Test-Run

    With an HBO documentary that places strong allegations of abuse against Michael Jackson premiering in two weeks, the late singer’s estate announced Thursday that it’s canceling a scheduled Chicago test run of a jukebox musical about him. The estate and its producing partner in the musical, Columbia Live Stage, said that they’re setting their sights on going [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content