Circumstances,” a play written by Roger Parris, is being presented at the Harlem School of the Arts, located at 647 St. Nicholas Avenue in Manhattan (142nd Street). A Hadley Players production, “Circumstances” takes form under the directorship of veteran director and performer, Arthur French, Gertrude Jeannette, Hadley Players’ Founder/CEO Emeritus; CEO, Voza Rivers, and Artistic Director, Ward Nixon. “Circumstances” runs until Sunday, January 20th.
The play takes place at a predominantly white New England university during the 1960s, a time when the Civil Rights Movement was at the fore and many socially conscious individuals of all races traveled to the south to aid voter registration. Given the violence by whites and the life threatening circumstances facing black people, only the bravest of souls traveled south to fight for change and greater freedom for Black people.
The storyline of this drama centers around two young African American college roommates who have little in common outside of their 4.0 grade average. Both brilliant, they come from socially and economically diverse backgrounds. The more worldly Timothy (Curtis Williams), who was raised by his number-running grandmother, Mama Dee (Louise Mike), who’s wish for her grandson, was to make a difference in the world via obtaining his degree and using his brains over his fists. Afrocentric in his thinking and impatient to change the circumstances of black people in America, particularly as the Civil Rights Movement began to demand that black people be allowed to exercise their rights to vote which was opposed throughout the racist south, Timothy was anxious to get involved in voter registration down south, even if it meant foregoing his education.
18-year old Robert Hudson played by Matthew Murumba, on the other hand, was raised in a protective environment and had very little exposure to the world at large, let alone to the plight of other members of his race. A studious sort, Robert kept his nose to the grindstone in an effort to live up to his father’s expectations of him. Unfortunately, Robert’s father, Dr. Hudson, (Leopold Lowe) spent more time with his medical practice than with his son. Dr. Hudson had already decided what Robert’s future would be. In fact, so adamant was Dr. Hudson in his resolve, it never occurred to Robert to question his father’s goals for him. Rather cold in his demeanor, Dr. Hudson (Leopold Lowe) rarely showed up for any of his son’s social activities and behaved more in the capacity of disciplinarian than caring father.
A maverick in his behavior and rather anti-social toward his fellow students, Timothy loved to break all the college rules – occasionally sneaking guests such as town local, Mr. Ellis (Albert Eggleston), into his pigsty of a room, smoking herb and drinking with him. This behavior brought him under the watchful eye of one of the few African American deans on campus (played by Allie Woods). Dean Hendricks impressed by Timothy’s brilliance sought to alter Timothy’s defiant behavior by assigning the well-behaved Robert to Timothy’s room, hoping Robert’s conformity would rub off on Timothy. Also since there were few African Americans attending the university, the Dean had a special interest in presenting the few African Americans in attendance as model citizens. The two boys clashed from the start. It wasn’t until the boys had several fights and Robert demonstrated he had some knowledge of black history that Timothy warmed toward him. Timothy agreed to introduce the virginal and inexperienced Robert to girls, in particular Pepper, played by Staxx Cadero, who introduces Robert to the more romantic side of life. Before long, Robert was sampling liquor, weed and getting a taste of life. This led to both boys getting in trouble and a disciplinarian board which only served to solidify and deepen their friendship.
The audience becomes engaged as the stellar cast leads the viewer to its thought provoking conclusion. “Circumstances” is a poignant and riveting play. A play about choices and circumstances that make men out of boys, setting them on a course that alters their individual life for the rest of their lives. I recommend going to see it before it closes. It’s a play that stays with you long after the curtain drops.
Upcoming Hadley plays are: a comedy entitled “Benefits” by Martha J. Thomas. The third production for the season will be a drama, the title yet to be announced.