Fine acting in ‘The Good Negro,” but can’t save it from the slow pace by Vicky Giannini
Innumerable people have made tremendous contributions to the world with kindness, love and social activism. Gandhi was one of the world’s great peacemakers. President John Kennedy brought our country into a new era and changed standards. Martin Luther King Jr. led the civil rights movement and an inspiration to all. In “The Good Negro,” we find even the best of people are flawed. Many people, even those who are working for the greater good, have personal problems that are often concealed from the public, but they aren’t always successful.
Though the acting of the show in general is very good, the story really does tend to go on a bit long. By the time the audience gets to intermission, one is remarking, “Wrap it up already!” Thank God for the 15 minutes in between acts, or no audience member would survive this 2 1/2 hour show. However, if you manage to stay awake and alert, you’ll find the story of a preacher striving to lead his people is very moving. “The Good Negro” opens in a sparse church in southern Alabama. A southern preacher speaks of God and his congregation’s journey. This is practically what happens in every civil rights story, but it’s still an inspirational sight to see on Goodman Theatre’s Albert stage because it shows the trials and tribulations of the 1960s for African Americans. The audience meets Rev. James Lawrence (Curtis McClarin) and his cause, the fight for the desegregation of the South. Though Lawrence is a strong, noble man who seems ready to better and protect his people, he is somewhat flawed. Lawrence is fashioned after the great Martin Luther King Jr. A bit of a womanizer as was Martin Luther King, Lawrence and his league of gentlemen take on the fight of integration and the changes the world is overcome and join together with the case of Claudette Sullivan, a woman who only wanted to let her child avoid the humiliation of urinating in an alley. Claudette lets her child use a “whites only” bathroom and is beaten and humiliated by police and citizens alike. At the time of this great change in society, the FBI, with the help of the Ku Klux Klan, try and take down these free speaking African-Americans who only want a better life and more respect from the world. The story takes us through the journey of equality and how we are all human beings in our country.
The story unfolds on a very simple wooden set, a far cry from the spectacle of “The True History of the Johnstown Flood.” Though a big set with all the “razzle dazzle” of a Broadway show normally catches the eye of audience members, this simple piece of artwork really showcases the talent and acting techniques of the actors, which is a nice change for Chicago theater. With its very fine acting and quaint set, “The Good Negro” really is a change from what Goodman Theatre has been normally showing, although it is not its greatest of picks. The show is long and dense and has points where you have to remind yourself that you are in a theater. At some points the show is riveting and quite exciting, but there are some extremely long and tedious parts. This show could have been condensed by an hour. I applaud you, Goodman Theatre for putting on “The Good Negro,” but I don’t think I could sit through this one again.
The show does strike many feelings and nerves with different types of people and people that have and have not lived through the movement. Our time now is a new time and different type of world. We finally have an African American president and though our world is full of good change, in some reasons we are still racist and intolerant especially in the state of Arizona. We are going through a difficult time that is in need of the same tolerance and hope that this movement showed. Though this play is boring, at times, it does give us hope even in our age.