"The River Niger," the powerful black family drama that became a Broadway hit and Tony winner and played the National Theater six years ago, opened last night at the All Souls Church.

That, in itself, was no mean accomplishment, even if the opening-night curtain was 45 minutes late.

After the Minority Arts Ensemble, which hoped to open its third season with the play, had to withdraw its support of the production, members of the cast chipped in $100 to $200 each to keep the production going.

It opened under the aegis of the Color Me Human Players, a nonprofit group organized earlier this year by Jewel Murphy, one of the members of the cast.

"The River Niger," which flows with deep and strong emotions, is an ambitious undertaking for a struggling independent troupe. It is a big play for such a small company and strains its limited experience and resources.

Despite the limitations on the production, Joseph A. Walker's play is still strong stuff, and the Color Me Human Players give no reason for embarrassment if their reach does exceed their theatrical grasp.

Walker's play tells the story of a black soldier who returns from Vietnam to his family in Harlem. He finds himself under pressure from both his family and his old street-gang buddies, who have turned into revolutionaries.

There is bitterness and rhetoric and vulgarity in Walker's play. But there is also love and tenderness and compassion.

Johnny Williams (played by Keith Norris Johnson in the role created by Douglas Turner Ward) is a house painter who writes unpublished poetry. His son, Jeff (Ersky Freeman Jr.) returns from Vietnam and wants to become a lawyer, but cannot escape his past.

Cedric Harris, who directed the production, said the Minority Arts Ensemble had to withdraw its support because of problems of reorganization and financing.

"The River Niger" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at All Souls Church, 16th and Harvard streets NW, through Oct. 14.