Twenty Year Friends, ETA Creative Arts Foundation.
Ever wonder what old numbers runners, card sharks, and pimps do when they're off duty? Well, judging by Twenty Year Friends, they relax in comfortable homes, grumble about how the neighborhood's deteriorated, kvetch about how kids nowadays don't respect their elders, rhapsodize over the condition of their bowels, bore their friends with much-repeated yarns, and though they might occasionally cheat on their wives, generally remain faithful to their patient spouses, showering them with lavish presents. Meanwhile their wives fret about getting old, fantasize about their girlhood ambitions, and once in a while threaten to follow their bliss, but overall they too are loyal.
In other words, they behave pretty much like middle-aged, middle-class couples everywhere--news that will come as a shock to a public glutted on media images of a dysfunctional culture where drugs are the only commerce, cheap thrills the only goals, and early death is the only destiny. James E. Gaines's look at the veterans of Harlem's "street industries" makes some significant and, judging by the response of the audience on the night I attended, wholly accurate observations on the changes in black communities over the last few decades. And his notion that inflexibility brings unhappiness is as old as Moliere. Plenty of humor keeps it all from growing too lugubrious. Director Jaye T. Stewart's leisurely pacing and his cast's thoughtful characterizations mine the somewhat literary dialogue for every comic nuance and grace note, making for a show both amusing and thought provoking.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kenneth Simmons.