Written by the influential African-American playwright Don Evans in the 1970s, this comedy had never been seen before in the UK until last year, when director Dawn Walton first aired this production in Sheffield with her theatre company Eclipse. In bringing work by black writers and theatre-makers to wider attention, Walton's intentions are laudable – so it's a shame that the play, which has now transferred to London ahead of a UK tour, falls so wide of the mark.
Our setting is the home of an upwardly mobile black family in Philadelphia. Reverend Avery Harrison (Karl Collins) is a preacher beset by mid-life priapic urges; his wife Myra (Jocelyn Jee Esien) is the pretentious lady of the manor, always mispronouncing her words (she says 'prevert' instead of 'pervert'), like a contemporary Mrs Malaprop. But the arrival of their Southern niece Beverly (Rebecca Scroggs) – left by her late father to the guardianship of his feckless, club-owner brother Caleb (Clifford Samuel) – upsets their comfortable preconceptions about race and progress.
The reverend and his wife see the future for black Americans in the assimilation of middle-class white values; Caleb accuses them of hypocrisy, articulating views about white people that make for uncomfortable listening.
The play is the unlikely missing link between Restoration comedy and the black American sitcoms of the '70s and '80s – the action is presented as if at a live studio recording, with the words 'on air' blinking above the stage. It's an interesting conceit, but it doesn't quite work here: most of the cast feel a little stiff, and the canned laughter track often rings out over a silent auditorium.
There are some moments of real humour, and several of the performances have admirable verve, but this feels like a period piece, airing some uncomfortable strains of prejudice – in terms of both class and race – without providing a convincing response.
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