Lonnie Elder's Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, which recently received a rousing production at the Anthony Bean Community Theater, is a realistic drama about an African-American family in the 1960s, but it defies easy interpretation.
The entire play takes place in a Harlem barbershop where Russell Parker (Harold X. Evans), the owner, plays regular games of checkers with his friend Jenkins (Alfred Aubrey) and passes the time with his sons. He is as pitiful at making money as he is at playing checkers, and his daughter Adele (Samantha Beaulieu) supports him and sons Theo (Damany Cormier) and Bobby (Darryl Lutcher). She's tired of the arrangement and gives them an ultimatum to get jobs before she throws them out.
Russell, Theo and Bobby are caught between humiliations. Adele supports them just like they were supported by Russell's wife, whom we are repeatedly told "worked herself to death." On the other hand, they don't want the low-paying, dead-end jobs available to black men. There's plenty of tension, but there also are light moments in the script. I particularly enjoyed some scenes between the father and his sons. Evans created a complex, engaging Parker, who is hapless but well-meaning.
The Parker sons don't lack skill or ambition. Bobby is a talented thief and shoplifter. Theo's claims to fame have taken many forms, all quickly abandoned, until he discovers a talent for brewing corn liquor, which his father ends up enjoying too much.
The story takes a turn with the entrance of Blue Haven (Anthony Bean), wearing a suit, tie and sunglasses. Theo has been bragging that Blue will set them up in business. Blue talks about his "association," which is dedicated to reclaiming Harlem from white control. But is he a revolutionary or a racketeer?
The Parkers go into business making bootleg liquor, and Blue distributes it to local after-hours joints. But the success of the illicit business has a brutal side that also creates strife in the family. Blue reveals a menacing streak simmering beneath his calm surface.
Ceremonies in Dark Old Men presents no easy answers. Anthony Bean's direction and acting were top-notch as was John Grimsley's set and lighting. — Dalt Wonk