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Gangsters and Mulatto

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Stage Actors Ensemble of Chicago, at Dancetech.

Teenage Bert Lewis has returned home from boarding school and is scandalizing his family and neighbors with his rebellious behavior. But what might be regarded as a harmless nuisance in other circumstances here must inevitably end in violence, because this is 1930s Georgia and Bert is the illegitimate son of old Colonel Tom Norwood and his black housekeeper.

Like many competent poets who attempt plays, Langston Hughes has overwritten this one in a manner also characteristic of its time (1935). But what irrevocably doom this Stage Actors Ensemble production are the interpretive liberties taken by director Stephan Turner, who guarantees that the stereotypical roles are played in stereotypical fashion: blacks shuffle and roll their eyes, whites leer and sneer, and the "mulatto's" appearance is Caucasian beyond any suspension of disbelief.

Paired with Mulatto on this program is South African playwright Maishe Maponya's 1984 Gangsters, a facile snippet of antiapartheid propaganda involving a rabble-rousing poet bent on martyrdom. Kecia Cooper contributes some nice readings of Maponya's lyrical orations, but as directed by David A. Mason she's restricted to only two emotions: repressed fury and undisguised defiance. Her two persecutors are similarly one-dimensional.

Since black-history buffs are unlikely to welcome history depicted in these comic-book terms, the target audience for these ham-handed reminders of the Bad Old Days is uncertain.

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