One of the landmark productions of the early days of the Off-Broadway movement was the 1961 American premiere of Jean Genet's The Blacks. The show would run 1,408 performances at the St. Mark's Theater. Among the actors to pass through the cast were then-unknowns James Earl Jones, Roscoe Lee Browne, Lou Gossett Jr., Cicely Tyson, Billy Dee Williams, Charles Gordone and Maya Angelou.
Now, on the 40th anniversary of that debut, The Classical Theatre of Harlem will revive the work. Performances being Oct. 11 for a run through Oct. 28.
Genet's expressionistic vision has a troupe of black actors perform for a court of black actors made to look like members of the English upper class. Furthermore, the play performed for the audience's entertainment is a reenactment of the rape and murder of a white woman.
Christopher McElroen directs a production which will feature elaborate costumes and masks, ethnic dancing and live percussion.
* The Classical Theatre of Harlem won a 2001 OBIE Award Grant for $2,500. This past summer they presented Shakespeare's Hamlet in The HSA Courtyard Theatre, at 645 St. Nicholas Ave near 141st St.
Alfred Preisser directed the production. Preisser and McElroen founded CTH in February 1999, armed only with their industry, vision and combined life savings of $8,966. Their determination was "to create a professional theatre company in Harlem," a neighborhood which, despite a rich theatrical history, has for many years lacked a prominent theatrical outfit. They have produced seven shows thus far.
Tickets are $15 / $12 groups of ten or more. Take A, B, C, or D trains to 145th Street, exit back of the train and walk 1 block south. For information call: (212) 539-8828.
— By Robert Simonson