Five on the Black Hand Side | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Five on the Black Hand Side

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FIVE ON THE BLACK HAND SIDE, ETA Creative Arts Foundation. As a period piece, this 1969 comedy about African-American urban life in the 60s has its good side. Playwright Charlie L. Russell, addressing such topics as male chauvinism, black nationalism, racial pride, interracial relationships, and protest movements, offers a vaguely leftist ideology with a surprisingly light and humorous touch.

But in 1997 the struggle of a marginalized housewife (Daryl Charisse, in a splendid comic performance) against her domineering husband, who won't buy her a new dress or even let her get a job, seems very dated indeed. Many of Russell's jokes about gender sound as if they come from early Norman Lear sitcoms, and 28 years later, his prescription for domestic bliss--Mrs. Brooks finally wins the right to work in her husband's barbershop--doesn't seem very progressive.

ETA's effusive, even raucous production features energetic performances, lively musical numbers, and screamingly funny period costumes. Unfortunately the cast is somewhat erratic, ranging from rather stiff and unconvincing to excellent--especially Cynthia Maddox J., who's hilarious as the tough Stormy Monday, and Eric Jaffe, refreshingly genuine in this generally over-the-top comedy as one of the Brooks' politically active children. --Adam Langer

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