Will He Bop, Will He Drop?, National Pastime Theater. This company had a hit with Robert Alexander's stage portrait of Huey P. Newton, Servant of the People!!, in 1996. And getting the world premiere of his newest play is an undeniable coup. But despite sprightly direction by Laurence Bryan, a high-energy cast, and the inspired live music of multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Wanda Ross, the play doesn't deliver on its promise.
Alexander attempts to encapsulate 50 years of African-American history by painting a portrait of a tormented, paranoid, blocked black writer, Jack (Michael Hargrove)--a choice that necessarily reduces the characters to stereotypes. We learn precious little about Jack's long-suffering wife--played by Tippi Thomas with blazing conviction and great vocal clarity (the other actors' speeches are sometimes lost in the theater's echoes)--except as an adjunct to Jack's life. Jack's father (Arch Harmon) is a rigid, uncompromising preacher and black separatist, a cross between Elijah Muhammad and the father in James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain. Perhaps most problematic, the evils of whiteness are represented solely by a nympho therapist (Dana Block) who tempts the addled Jack away from his work and his wife.
Alexander's references to Miles Davis, Ralph Ellison, and a host of other great African-American artists unfortunately only remind us how incoherent and undeveloped this work is by comparison.