Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
In "The Mighty Gents", which opened a five-week run Tuesday on the Eisenhower stage, author Richard Wesley perceives, within a Newark, N.J., black ghetto, some of the timeless form and formality of Greek tragedy. To the Greeks, life boiled down to what the Fates demanded. Wesley is less passive. He sees, in values and misplaced values, how man's choices can be an active force.
Director Harold Scott has given Wesley's play the kind of spare, clean production that subtly furthers in the viewer's mind the sense of classic form within the drama. Impeccably acted by all eight players, "The Mighty Gents" achieves a brooding power that will outlast its under-two-hours, intermissionless running time.
"The Mighty Gents" of the early '60s was a street gang of childish ruthlessness but now those teen-agers are in their early 30s, stranded in the attitudes, even the songs, of their youth. Still thinking of himself as their leader, Frankie leads them nowhere, though their peers seem to be achieving something - good, bad or early death.
Set against Frankie, whose perceptions are groping but dim, are two men. The older, Zeke, a street wino, embodies what Frankie doesn't want to happen to Frankie.
While the action shifts between present and past, the production itself and Wesley's often beautiful words coalesce the form effectively. Sometimes the words and action are pure naturalism, the gritty, gutter, cynical language of the streets. Sometimes Wesley gives his characters words they may not themselves possess but that do express what we accept as their inner selves. At such points the action virtually stops and the individual speeches become arias superbly delivered in formal style, a lifting contrast to the dominant naturalism.
This production scheme, designed by Santo Loquasto and listed by Gilbert V. Hemsley Jr., contributes immensely to the play's effect. We have now had enough of plays about black sex, booze and thuggery and it is heartening to find Wesley probing more deeply.
Dorin Harewood's Frankie is spendidly acted, but so are they all, Howard E. Rollins Jr., as Braxton; Frank Adu as Frankie's father; Starletta DuPois as Rita; Morgan Freeman as Zeke; Brent Jennings, Mansoor Najee-Ullah and Richard Gant as Tiny, Lucky and Eldridge, a superb, ensemble cast.