Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
By attempting far too much in the second of four Federal Theater programs Tuesday night in the Library of Congress, "Black Theater" achieved far too little.
The disappointment was on several levels, for there is material in the WPA's Harlem Lafayette Theater record that might have made an engrossing adventure. The decision to include music, including the unfamiliar Jimmy Mchugh-Dorothy Fields "Porgy," indicated lack of confidence in the dramatic material. There was a loose sprawl to Fredric Lee's overall design, and generally the performing ranged from negligible to poor.
Illumination as it was to hear Carlton Moss, who followed his Lafayette directorship with a vigoroous, continuing, creative career, his truncated half-hour was worthy of hour lecture but hardly suitable for the programmed scenes.
Not easily handled, excerpts from unfamiliar plays nonetheless can be managed adroitly. What is needed is definition of the scene, what has gone before, what sort of style we are to expect and the context of its production period. There was no real effort to do this; instead, songs and dances were used to slide one excerpt into another.
Among the plays represented were the unproduced "Liberty Deferred," by Abram Hill and John Silvera; "Stevedore," by Parl Peters and George Sklar; an escape scene from Theodore Browne's "Life and Times of Harriet Tubman," the witches' scene from Orson Welles' "Macbeth," "Haiti," kby William Dubois;" "The Trial of Dr. Beck," a drama about "passing" by Hughes Allison; Langston Hughes" "Troubled Island," also unproduced and the "Joe Worker Gets Gypped" song from Mare Blitzstein's "The Cradle Eill Rock." Properly introduced, most of these might have worked.
Nor were the eight performers up to the material. With the exception of Delores St. Ammond, who sang Hap Johnson's "Run little Chellun" and both sang and acted the "Dr. Beck" seene, the diction was abominable - all too audible but unintelligible. Every word cannot be accented; choices must be made; word elisions can blur all. This speech was dreadful.