A fascinating curio, at the Metropolitan Playhouse (occupying an approximately 60-seat space above the Connelly Theatre on East 4th Street) is the first NYC revival of Walk Hard, a 1946 play that ran only a week on Broadway (as a production of the American Negro Theatre), based on a novel, Walk Hard, Talk Loud, published in 1940.
I’m not sure why it should be, but neither this revival nor one in London 11 years ago, acknowledges the novel in its credits, yet the novel is cited on IBDB, and the London production even used the fuller title. Which is too bad, because it’s not merely that Abram Hill is among the first significant African American dramatists of the 20th Century; but that his play adapts a first novel by Len Zinberg (better known to aficionados of classic pulp fiction by his much-more-often-used, pseudonymous byline, Ed Lacy), a white writer, who was an activist and very concerned with correcting injustices to the African American experience in America, and whose work was hailed by African American notables as unusually insightful, though penned by “an outsider.”
The alchemical fusion of Zinberg/Lacy and Hill produced a play of the kind of socially aware verve that wears its heart on its sleeve, and seeks not only to engage via narration, but to rouse awareness. It’s about a young black man, spotted by a manager, defending himself with deft fisticuffs on the street, recruited into the fight game, there to encounter the inequities of white/black treatment in a proportion previously unknown even to him; and as a prideful fellow unwilling to stand down, he crosses paths with some powerful people who don’t mind enforcing their convictions in a less than law-abiding manner.
The dialogue is pregnant with old-style Noo Yawkese in its patois and rhythms, and the dramatic trajectory is uncluttered and unflaggingly paced. It plays a little bit like a direct antecedent of Rod Serling’s Requiem for a Heavyweight, but in a somewhat less gritty manner, its universe not quite so bereft of joy. It jumps the rails pretty spectacularly in its portrayal of the hero’s young girl friend, by making her so conspicuously the moral mouthpiece that she might as well be costumed in a messenger’s uniform…but you never watch anything like this without a certain forbearance for the time in which it emerged.
A generally excellent cast, featuring raw newbies and seasoned veterans (with a bit of bold, cross-racial casting in supporting parts) does quite well in the limited space under the direction of Imani.
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