TV REVIEW : ‘God’s Dangers’: Paean to Black Endurance in the South
Solo actor Cleavon Little, playing an old black man looking back on his life in the sharecropper South of the first half of the century, creates a beguiling American portrait tonight on “American Playhouse” in “All God’s Dangers” at 9 on Channel 28.
Little originated the role on stage back East last year, and his performance is virtuosic, laced with sly wit and vocal legerdemain, with the actor slipping into the persona of several rural characters.
The production, shot in front of a live and occasionally audible audience, sticks to its stage origins, and the viewing experience is theatrical, not filmic. Little, made up to look 85, shuffles back and forth between a water pump and the old man’s barnyard chair as he spins forth tales that become a microcosm of the common man in an inhospitable land.
The character’s story, an heroic one of a black cotton picker who dared join the Alabama Sharecroppers’ Union, is true, based on the oral history of former sharecropper Ned Cobb (given the pseudonym Nate Shaw). The material is adapted from the book “All God’s Dangers,” by Theodore Rosengarten, who co-wrote the play with Michael Hadley (who directed for “American Playhouse”) and Jennifer Hadley.
The production echoes another “American Playhouse” paean to black endurance in the pre-civil rights South, folklorist Zora Neale Hurston’s “My Name Is Zora!,” starring Ruby Dee, which aired in February. Ned Cobb’s language (“silent as a plank of wood”) is rich and vibrant and his story vivifies the great collection of still photos of the gin mill South that opens the show.