"Earth and Stars," the Randolph Edmunds play that ends its second and final weekend run tonight at Howard University's Ira Aldridge Theater, was first produced in 1946.
By itself that fact of chronology doesn't mean much. The interesting feature is that the play anticipated a minister like Martin Luther King who believed in using the church as an instrument for social and political change. Of course, there were ministers such as Adam Clayton Powell and James Lawson who predated King in the social gospel tradition.
In the play, the minister is Joshua Judson, who wants to carry out a program of social change to fight racial discrimination and violence in Southern City. His fight is as much against tradition-bound blacks as power-loving whites.
The drama poses the question of whether the church should involve itself in everyday political issues and labor problems. Also included is the basic human element of boy and girl falling in love.
The three-act drama fails to light up, however, mainly because the language is bland, character development is one-dimensional, the story line is predictable and too much action is contained in a small space, the living room of Judson's parsonage.
Moreover, the acting was embarrassingly stiff at the fist Friday night's performance. Only Ben Herring, as the southern redneck, and B. P. T. Jefferson III, as a loyal emissary of the bishop, gave performances that had any spontaneity.
The drama is said to be one of the most widely produced plays at black educational and community theaters in the south. In its day it probably was effective as a lesson teacher on the question of race. It may even have been slightly controversial.
But now it seems simplistic and is more didactic than dramatic.