New York City Theater
"No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs"
The temptation is to label “No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs” a play in process and to hope that the playwright will tighten this repetitious work. But African-American playwright John Henry Redwood, alas, died several years ago and cannot perform this much-needed chore. (But Redwood will surely be remembered for his far better piece—“The Old Settler.”)
Yet “No Niggers” is a play of worthy intentions which has its powerful moments. It is a plea for tolerance, for acceptance of racial and religious differences. Redwood even includes a likeable Jewish character, and draws parallels between Jewish and African-American persecution. The play takes its title, the playwright explains, from signs that can be seen entering some small southern towns.
Set in small-town North Carolina, “No Niggers” follows the trials of a strong black woman (Mattie Cheeks, played beautifully by Pamela O. Mitchell) and her family. Mattie has been raped by a white man, but does not tell her husband Rawl, fearing that his justifiable rage would end in his own destruction. Her scenes with Rawl ring with authenticity. But exchanges with her children go on ad nauseam. Redwood overstates the case, in explaining that Mattie is a strict, caring parent.
The production itself is under S. Barton-Farcas’s direction, and, with its limited off-off-Broadway facilities, does not do justice to the material. With a small makeshift stage and uneven casting, the show falters. Yet the black family is so faithfully portrayed that one becomes deeply involved in their fates. Fine performances are offered, not only by Mitchell, but Patrick Mitchell as her husband, and Aaliyah Miller and Skai Konha as their daughters. But Russell Waldman, as the Jewish scholar who befriends them, and Dana Jones as their haunted aunt, never really inhabit their roles.
July 12, 2008