The title itself is catchy enough to ensnare -- "Post-Revolution, Pre-Depression, Hand-Me-Down-My-Walking-Cane Blues."
If that is a trifle misleading with minstrel-show overtones, no matter. The Gregory Productions "revue" of black drama of the '70s is a provocative, entertaining show now on the stage of the Washington Project for the Arts.
What Gregory J. Ford, the producer-director, has done is bring together scenes from four plays of the last decade. A minstrel man-interlocutor provides a running commentary of observations.
These are "pieces of reflection" of black people from different angles, the Minstrel Man (played with footstomping flair by Ford) tells the audience. The characters are diverse in personality and class: a middle-class family, two second-rate entertainers, women trapped in the ghetto, a student trying to escape that same ghetto. The talk is not so much of revolution, but, as the Minstrel Man observes, "belonging, families, love and creating something."
There are puzzling moments and jarring transitions. With the cast of six actors in shifting roles, the characters take life even in the short, fragmentary scenes. You care enough to wonder what happens to them if the play were to continue to the end.
Ford has chosen from among the lesser-known plays of the black theater in the '70s such as Laird Koenig's "The Dozens" and Bill Gunn's "Black Picture Show." Four of the seven scenes are from "The Duplex" by Ed Bullins. The sampler concludes with an adaptation of "Sassafrass," the book in verse by Ntozake Shange.
"The Dozens" is an oft-hilarious look at the plight of two black American show-biz characters, Vi and Stanley, husband-manager and wife-singer. The bickering couple ends up in Africa at the invitation of the president of the newly emerging country of Chaka. They arrive just in time for the revolution and end up taking refuge in an abandoned Coca-Cola factory. Naima Barakat and Ron Parker make the most of Vi and Stanley.
In "The Duplex," Bullins deals with blacks trapped in ghettos. Some, like Steve, the student, are trying to escape. His love affair with Velma, who has a wastrel husband and three young children and, with the burden of ignorance, lacks hope, has its poignant moments."I have a future . . . you are trapped," Steve tells Velma, trying to justify his abandonment of her. As Velma, Corlis Lasley is proud and bitter.
Other members of the cast are Elliott Hill, Ulandis Hill and Joseph Kelliebrew. Elliott Hill catches the guilt and frustrations of the ghetto Steve in the later scenes from "The Duplex." For some reason, Parker plays the first scene as Steve and is miscast in the role.
"Blues" will be performed at 8 p.m. tonight and tomorrow. The WPA is at 1227 G St. NW. Ford hopes to find another theater space to keep the show running beyond its closing date at WPA.