In many ways, Dale Johnson's black, white & Blue is just like its characters -- in your face, up front about its biases, and somewhat troubled. As the semi-pro basketball Buffaloes play in the finals of the 1973 Eastern Appalachian League, the players must confront their inner demons while struggling to keep their dreams from crashing and burning.
Although they play on one team, the players are separated along racial lines. The black players -- Blister (Chet Anekwe) and Ahmad (Frederick Kiah Jr.) -- stand their ground against the white ones -- Chicky (Matthew Stocke), Turk (Brandt Johnson), Lurch (Michael Etheridge), and Hulk (Van Creely). Set in the team's locker room before and after the championship game, the play starts slowly, heavy with exposition. This is problematic -- if these guys have been playing all season, wouldn't they know all this stuff? The racial tension couldn't not have come up before, but they talk as if it's new information. The plot creaks a bit too, as an encounter between Blister and a groupie (susannah mackintosh) serves to put him in earshot of a phone call where Ahmad discusses throwing the game for money. A fair amount of tension does build about what each player will do, not in small measure because of Kiah's intensity.
The white players have varying degrees of desperation of their own, but they blatantly play the race card in spite of the fact that they are all on the same team. Johnson and Creely were especially strong as they baited and provoked Ahmad and Blister, and their rage was palpable as they began to suspect the team's loss was not on the up-and-up. When they turned violent, there was a real question how destructive these actors would get. Linda Burson directed these scenes for maximum effect, and when the play caught up with its theme, there was genuine feeling on stage. Stocke, as a conciliatory type, Etheridge as a space cadet, and David Pendleton as a coach who doesn't have much grasp on the currents running through the team all offered strong support. mackintosh was a standout in a role that requires nudity and ingenuousness in equal measure.
The set (design consultant Vincent Smith) was simple and effective, including lockers that didn't always open on cue, and a platform above, which was the office of the team owner (Ruth Kulerman), always in view. Kulerman's scenes provided a counterpoint to the action below, showing that in semi-pro sports, like any business, ability and race are secondary to economics. There's little subtlety in Black, White & Blue, but the bluntness suits its subject matter.
Acting : 2
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Copyright 1998 David Mackler