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H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players turn on the 'Light'

DEARDRA SHULER | 4/12/2011, 4:41 p.m.

"Light in The Cellar," written by Gertrude Jeannette, the light behind The H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players, and directed by Patricia R. Floyd, is running at the Harlem School of the Arts, located at 645 St. Nicholas Avenue until Sunday, November 15.

This is the story of the Crawfords, a southern family who move to Washington Heights in 1963, secretly buy an apartment building and pretend to be the janitorial staff while waiting for an apartment to become available.

"Light in the Cellar" highlights the clash between generations and the changing of an era. Vera (Valarie Tekoski) is the strong maternal figure who holds things together. Constantly worrying about the relationship between the men in the family, she strives to keep peace between father and son, respectively played by A.C. Davidson and Ray Martell Moore. Young Herman is a source of agitation and concern since the family sold their property down South and moved North in an effort to avoid southern attitudes toward Herman, who rebelled against the racial climate in the South at a time in the 1960s when Black people began to rebel against their oppressed circumstances.

Having himself been rebellious in his youth, to nearly fatal results, Mr. Crawford now rails against his son's "I'm Black and I'm proud" attitude, not because he was less Black or less proud, but because he fears for his son's safety. Also, he desperately wants his son to get a higher education so that he can fight the good fight via his mind and not with his fists. So eager was he to set his son on this path, he refused to allow him to associate with anyone promoting Black Power or to recognize what drove his son to become part of the change the times demanded. This only served to alienate his son, who didn't understand his father's reticence or why the family was hiding out in their own building pretending to be janitors and tolerating the uppity attitudes of some of the building's Black tenants.

Toni Ann Denoble plays the role of Beverly, Herman's young sister, who simply wanted to grow into her own while establishing her identity as a young Black woman during a time when new attitudes were rising to the surface, pushing away the defeatism and fears of an era black folks no longer wanted to be subjugated to and segregated under, whether middle class or poor.

Gertrude Jeannette, through her play, turns a light on issues not often spoken of in the Black community, including the class system that exists between the middle and working classes. While members of both classes often lived side by side, a few more affluent Blacks tried to separate themselves mentally when white racism prevented them from separating themselves physically.

The building the Crawford's bought housed members of Black society who saw themselves as above the working class and who had adapted the attitudes of white society's hoi polloi (a word oftentimes mistakenly used to describe the "elite" but with an actual root that means 'the masses'). And in some sense, the mistaken use of the word hoi polloi to mean "elite" when it actually means the "common folk" goes to the crux of the illusion--that being, there is such a thing as a separation between the two. It goes to the heart of the races of man and their inability to see that everything is "one" and separation is merely a mind game.

The character of Yarba is well played by cast member Leopold Lowe, who was superb in the role. Also, Albert Eggleston, Jordane Thomas, Benja K, Colette Bryce, Nzingtha Smith, Norman Small and Steven Lee Edwards give life to their performances and make this play well worth seeing.

"Light in the Cellar" is a captivating drama that touches on issues both subtle and obvious. It's a thinking man's play while at the same time, entertaining and humorous.

To catch this play before it closes on November 15, call (212) 926-4100 or visit info@harlemschoolofthearts.org.