Magazine article American Theatre

An Outpost for Outcasts

Magazine article American Theatre

An Outpost for Outcasts

Article excerpt

Poetic valor swaggers in Legends, Leslie Lee's rowdy and poignant new creation running April 25-May 20 at St. Louis Black Repertory. Each one of the play's choleric riffraffs--down and out denizens in a scuffed-up hotel for transients--was somebody proud and majestic once. Unfortunately, fate has dealt them an unlucky hand, from Martha Davenport, a brillo-mouthed go-go dancer who left Atlanta with a dream of becoming a Broadway star, to Othel Henry, a wounded veteran trapped in his wartime reveries, to Ruben Petit, a former jazz musician who carries a sax in his arms as if it were a dying baby.

"These people bicker and fight, but to a degree they do care for each other," Lee says. "They have to. The one thing they all have in common is their animosity toward the Hell's Angels." The famed motorcycle gang terrorizes the flophouse tenants: one member steals Ruben's saxophone, leaving him helpless and bewildered. "At the beginning of the play," continues Lee, "the Angels are raising hell all night and keeping the folks awake and very discontented. Othel, the veteran, becomes their father figure. By the end, he takes charge."

Lee's plays are boisterous galleries of black life that josh, squabble and sing of the contradictions of his brethren. He never shrinks from telling it like it is. In the 1975 drama that secured Lee's reputation, First Breeze of Summer, nor everyone acts nobly or heroically. An elderly mother recalls, through a series of flashbacks, her youthful affairs with three different men, straining a family's relationships. …

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