Theater review: ‘The Good Negro’ at Stella Adler Theatre
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Idealism is a dirty business in Tracy Scott Wilson’s “The Good Negro,” now at the Stella Adler Theatre. It’s Birmingham, 1962, and the civil rights movement led by MLK-like Reverend Lawrence (Phrederic Semaj) finds a public relations dream in Claudette (Theresa Deveaux), a black woman arrested and beaten after her 4-year-old child uses a whites-only public restroom. As the movement readies boycotts and marches, FBI agents (Brett Chapin and Chris McNair) draft a bigot (Brian E. Smith) to go undercover (literally) with the Ku Klux Klan; after all, they need to make sure the good ol’ boys don’t inadvertently aid the African American cause by burning a cross in the wrong yard.
Scott’s playwriting can feel schematic — these characters don’t display much nuance — but her storytelling has scope and wit. J. Edgar Hoover’s operatives bitch that it’ll be tough bugging Claudette’s rural shack, while Lawrence’s competitive lieutenants (Damon Christopher and Austen Jaye) jockey for power like schoolboys.
This staging by Upward Bound Productions has its awkward moments, and director Sam Nickens doesn’t negotiate transitions with much elegance. But passionate performances from Semaj and Numa Perrier as his long-suffering wife help sell a timely parable of how political victory depends on who tells the best story.
-- Charlotte Stoudt
“The Good Negro,” Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 19. $18 and $20. (323) 960-1054. www.Plays411/com/goodnegro Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.