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.

Popular on Variety


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

  • David-Alan-Grier-Blair-Underwood

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood to Star in 'A Soldier's Play' on Broadway

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood will star in a Broadway production of Pulitzer-Prize winning drama “A Soldier’s Play.” The play, written by Charles Fuller, is set in 1944 and follows a murder mystery centered around the death of black Sergeant Vernon C. Waters (played by Grier) who is found on a Louisiana army base. [...]

  • The Inheritance review

    'The Inheritance' Announces Broadway Cast

    After an Olivier-winning run in London, “The Inheritance” is gearing up for its Broadway debut. The two-part epic has set the cast for its transfer from the West End to the Great White Way. John Benjamin Hickey, Paul Hilton, Samuel H. Levine, Andrew Burnap and Kyle Soller are among the cast members reprising their roles [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Announces 2020 National Tour

    ‘Hadestown’, the eight-time Tony award winning Broadway musical, is set for a national tour in 2020. The show will stop in more than 30 cities including Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and more. The musical is a stage adaptation of the Greek myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and King Hades and his wife [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Listen: Why Jake Gyllenhaal Is His 'Best Self' in the Theater

    Looking for the best possible version of Jake Gyllenhaal? You’ll find it onstage, according to the actor himself. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I am my best self when I’m working in the theater,” Gyllenhaal said on the latest episode Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast, on which he appeared with Carrie Cracknell, the director of [...]

  • Photo: Jeremy Daniel

    'The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical' Gets Broadway Run

    “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” is Broadway bound. The musical adaptation of the franchise about a teenager who discovers he’s the son of Poseidon hits the Great White Way on Sept. 20 ahead of an Oct. 16 opening night. It comes on the heels of an extensive, nationwide tour that took the show [...]

  • Tom Sturridge Jake Gyllenhaal

    Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge Celebrate 'Sea Wall/A Life' With Star-Studded Opening Night

    A star-studded audience looked on as Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge returned to the stage for their double monologue performance in “Sea Wall/A Life.” Theater-goers and celebs including Anne Hathaway, Tom Hiddleston and John Mulaney gathered in Manhattan’s Hudson Theatre for opening night, celebrating a show tackling grief, birth and death through the eyes of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content