The Goodman Theatre’s production of “The Good Negro” rarely cackles on its own but it soars on the strength of its actors.
Set in Birmingham, Alabama in 1962 in the early days of the American civil rights movement, Tracy Scott Wilson’s play is a thinly disguised drama about the challenges and successes achieved by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Billy Eugene Jones is cast as the Rev. James Lawrence, a civil rights leader. His wife Corinne, modeled after Coretta Scott King, is played by Karen Aldridge and his best friend and colleague Henry Evans is portrayed by Teagle F. Bougere.
On the other side are three characters: white supremacist Gary Thomas Rowe, Jr., played by Dan Waller, and two G-men, played by Mick Weber and John Hoogenakker. Together the work to supply FBI director J. Edgar Hoover with a steady stream of information in his search for Communists in the movement
The action, directed by Chuck Smith, moves quickly, shifting between a two-part set design by Riccardo Hernandez, putting the Rev. Lawrence and his people on one side of the stage and the FBI men and their informant on the other. The lights move from side to side as the story unfolds.
The play features black and white footage from the Civil Rights Movement and occasionally freedom songs echo through the theater. In fact, the production would have been aided by a greater use of music, since that was one of the defining characteristics of the movement during those days.
Waller makes the redneck Roe into a man we love to hate. Jones’ flawed minister is a sympathetic character, as is Bougere’s Evans. They play deftly against each other, often providing the humor necessary to relieve the tension of the struggle.
Aldridge has a powerful moment when Corinne Lawrence discovers her husband’s infidelity. If this were a movie, she would win an Oscar as best supporting actress.
The Good Negro runs through the first week in June. For tickets or more information visit www.goodmantheatre.org