There are several ancient Greek words that embody various forms of love, for example “eros” represents sexual desire and “agape” equates to Christian love and charity. “Philia” has always been one of my personal favorites. It is defined as amity, friendship, and brotherly love.
Kings of Harlem and Black Angels Over Tuskegee are two of playwright Layon Gray’s works that embody that spirit of philia. I first saw Kings of Harlem in Fall 2014 at Actor’s Temple Theatre and most recently attended Black Angels Over Tuskegee, which is currently running at St. Luke’s Theatre.
Both plays are historical dramas derived from notable moments of the African American experience (the 1930s Harlem Rens basketball team and the 1940s inaugural Tuskegee Airmen respectively). Each highlights the unified accomplishments and tenacity of black men in the face of great adversity.
These men reflect diverse demographics from major urban and rural hubs of African American communities. Though representing varied economical, educational, and social backgrounds, they are systematically linked by gender and the color of their skin. In their respective journeys, each team achieves a great amount of success by learning to identify with each other’s personal and societal struggles, ultimately supporting one another and bonding in brotherhood.
The ensemble for Black Angels Over Tuskegee included solid performances by Delano Barbosa (Percival Nash), Lamar K. Chasten (Theodore Franks), Thaddeus Daniels (Young Man), Storm Gunraj (Elijah Sam), Melvin Huffnagle (Jeremiah Jones), David Roberts (Abraham Dorsey), and playwright/director Layon Gray (Quentin Dorsey). The majority of this cast also appeared in Kings of Harlem last Fall.
The company’s genuine level of camaraderie and fraternity on stage is worthy of note.
The dramatic structure and characterization of Gray’s writing is appropriately formulaic as it it derivative of folk narratives. His monologues are rich and soulful, paying homage to August Wilson’s use of the oral traditions of storytelling as the men banter, share tall tales of their “girl back home,” relate local anecdotes, and muse over historic black heroes.
The use of stock characters, e.g., The Instructing Narrator, The Uptight Tom, and The Country Folk, is deliberate and well developed, effectively serving as a point of entry for new audiences while maintaining the active engagement of seasoned theatre-goers.
Grays’ cinematically inspired staging uses choreographed scenes (e.g., the basketball ballets of Kings of Harlem and aerial battles of Black Angels Over Tuskegee), live-action montages, and melodramatic underscoring to aggressively forward the plot while emotionally captivating the audience.
One is effortlessly pulled in to laugh, cheer, fight, and cry along with these men as they rise triumphant despite historical and mythical odds. It is truly the stuff of legend.
Layon Gray presents Black Angels Over Tuskegee
Written and Directed by Layon Gray
May 16th – July 12th, 2015
Saturdays at 1PM through June 20th.
Sundays at 1 PM from June 28th through July 12th.
St. Luke’s Theatre
308 W 46th St | Between 8th and 9th Ave | NYC
Tickets | Telecharge | 212 239-6200
Website | BlackAngelsOverTuskegee.com