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Ceremonies in Dark Old Men
a Drama
by Lonne Elder III

COMPANY : True Colors Theatre Company
VENUE : Balzer Theatre @ Herren's [WEBSITE]
ID# 2390

SHOWING : July 11, 2007 - August 19, 2007



A Barber Shop in a back corner of Harlem becomes a battleground in this family drama about life, choices, and getting through the day on your own terms. A revival of the classic play by Lonne Elder III.

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What's Said and Not Said
by Dedalus
Thursday, August 2, 2007
As part of the National Black Arts Festival, Kenny Leon and True Colors Theatre Company have dusted off Lonnie Elder III’s “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men,” a 1960’s slice-of-Harlem life, covered it with star treatment and A-List Tech Support, and given us a gift of a production that strikes at the heart of what it means to be human.

Mr. Russell B. Parker was a Vaudeville hoofer, a man who danced his way through the depression, who lived life as if it were a story to be relished and handed down to his children. When Vaudeville died, so did something vital in him. Supported first by his wife, then by his daughter, Mr. Parker’s days became filled with memories and checker games. Ostensibly a barber, he rarely, if ever, actually cuts hair. His deserted and homey shop has become a haven for him, a place to hide with his friends and his stories from the bitterness of his daughter and the distance of his sons. It is also a family battlefield on which he doesn’t realize he’s already lost the war.

When his daughter gives him an ultimatum to find work or get out, his son Theo comes up with a scheme to sell home-made corn whiskey out of the barber shop, making it a front for the local numbers racket. Before you can say “Don’t Trust That Man in the Sunglasses,” Mr. Parker is skimming from the till, dressing to the nines, bringing home a “sweet young thing,” and living new stories. When the inevitable tragedy comes, he remains oblivious, continuing his ceremonies of tall tale and bluster, as those around watch in stony silence. It is a devastating scene, making the ironic point that what matters is sometimes what’s unsaid, and when your life’s story ignores the brutalities of real life, you’ve lost something more than the ability to dance.

Movie and Television star Glynn Turman is absolutely terrific as Mr. Parker. He is brilliant at portraying the dichotomy between the old man often in fear of his daughter, and the stern father who finally gets a little focus (as misplaced as that focus can be). He shows Mr. Parker’s absolute joy in his reminiscences (whether they’re true or not) and showers us with a rich parcel of embellishments that makes us wish that, even if his stories are tall tales, they SHOULD be true. The things he leaves unsaid to his children are written broadly on his face, and he leaves those unsaid truths hidden behind the half-truths he joyfully recounts. (Trivia Digression: Mr. Turman played Theo Parker in a 1975 made-for-television version of this piece. Do you suppose it’ll ever be available on DVD?)

Mr. Turman is given excellent support by Atlanta actors Karan Kendrick, Brandon Dirden, and Jason Dirden playing his grown children, film and TV actor Eugene Lee as Mr. Parker’s best friend Jenkins, and Carra Patterson as the duplicitous “Young Girl” Mr. Parker brings home. At the 7/26 performance, director Kenny Leon stepped in for a missing E. Roger Mitchell as the chilling “Mr. Blue,” and gave a vivid and frightening monologue of this cold man’s “day with his young son.”

I’ve praised Brandon Dirden before (and often), and here, he gives a performance that’s even better than what he’s done before. Theo Parker starts as an aimless “looking for a quick buck” punk, an attitude born of avoiding (and ironically copying) his father’s life choices. When the brunt of labor for their new enterprise falls on his shoulders, he rapidly becomes the responsible adult his sister has been crying for. Mr. Dirden makes us believe the transition, makes us see the “old Theo” in the changed man and see how the “new Theo” arose from the earlier scenes. Even his silences in the final scene speak volumes more than his father’s ongoing monologue. It’s an achievement as impressive as Mr. Turman’s.

I also want to send out praise for Rochelle Barker’s set. I was impressed a few years ago when she was able to turn the Actor’s Express space into a warehouse apartment for “Burn This,” and she achieves a similar affect here. The back wall is built like a formidable brick alley in a back corner of Harlem, making the warm barbershop in the foreground all the more appealing and cave-like. This set is Mr. Parker’s lair, his haven, his “story-verse,” with the cold bricks of reality looming over it like a sword. That he doesn’t recognize it as a battlefield is as much the effect of the design as it is of the script.

“Ceremonies in Dark Old Men” is a classic piece of theatre that has held up through the years. It is the portrait of man who clamors for life in spite of the fact that the most vital part of him died in his youth. It is a profoundly moving portrait of a man struggling to hold on to a sense of dignity, at a time when those who love him the most (or who should love him the most) don’t know or care what he really needs. It is a play about a large man screaming at a universe that wants to keep him small. And it is a play filled with talk in which the most effective moments occur because of things left unsaid.
-- Brad Rudy (

Before Note: For those who come early on July 25 - July 27, True Colors will be presenting their week of Suzan-Lori Parks’ “365 Days / 365 Plays” from 7:30 - 8:00 PM. Director Todd Kriedler is to be commended for integrating these 7 pieces with the “Ceremonies” set and connecting them together. Eric Little is a bombastic ringmaster who introduces each play as if it were a Vaudeville act, and characters from each play casually enter others, making the whole enterprise work as well as “warming up” the audience for the terrific production to come. Kudos to Eric and the ensemble (Pat Bell, Andrew Benator, Jason Ferguson, Jade Lambert-Smith, Mary Lynn Owen - superfunny in “Sugar,” Devere Rogers, Eugene Russell, Tom Thon, Kisa Willis, and LaParee Young). Some of the pieces are still more sketches than plays, but, here, the collection works as a well-conceived whole. Grade: B+



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