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No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs

By John Barry | Posted 2/11/2004

No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs

John Henry Redwood

At the Arena Players through Feb. 29

ohn Redwood's No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs dumps us in Halifax, N.C., just after World War II, where a black woman is raped and impregnated by a white man. That's a lot of baggage for any playwright to handle. When the Arena Payers hit their stride, this play is epiphanic.

The father, the amiable, imposing, temperamental Rawl (Michael Kane, pictured right) is the man of the family, who's going to Cleveland to dig graves for war soldiers. The mother, Mattie (Cheryl Pasteur), is the moral pillar of the family and dispenser of tough love. Daughter Joyce (Yolanda Jenkins) is college-bound, reads Homer, and is beginning to get involved with bucktoothed boys. And there's her sister, Matoka (Brianna Hollimon), who delivers an enjoyable performance as the quintessential bratty younger sibling.

The standout moments in this story include a soliloquy by Mattie, in which she explains how she tries to absorb the anger of a husband in a society that refuses to grant him the rights of a man. Rawl's own reaction to his wife's pregnancy is also oddly affecting: While we've been expecting an operatic Othello-type blowup, his exasperation is intensely human. When these two characters are able to tap their essential responses to the situation, as it develops onstage, the chemistry is excellent.

But the play loses its force when characters appear whose links to the drama are tenuous at best. Yaveni Aaronsohn (David Berkenblit, pictured left) is an elderly Jewish sociologist. His part in this play is a little ambiguous as he snoops around the place, linking his own experiences as a Jew to those of the family. Aunt Cora (Sandra Meekins), meanwhile, is a ghostlike presence who walks around in mourning dress, face covered. Both characters have appeal, but their lives are only significant as shadowy parallels to the play's central plot. While Aaronsohn introduces us to the Holocaust and Aunt Cora makes us aware of the horrors of lynching, Redwood hasn't found a way to integrate either one of them into the action.

The Arena Players is one of the most vital--and packed--theaters in town, so you know they're doing something right. No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs takes on a powerful subject, and it could use a long run in Strom Thurmond's old hometown. But on a purely dramatic level, Redwood needs to relieve himself of some of his excess baggage. Just because there's a lot to talk about doesn't mean it all has to be said onstage.

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