It was the summer of '68 and America was in a social whirlwind. With half of America's youth fighting a war in Vietnam, the other half, left at home by choice or fate, quickly fell in line to attempt to take responsibility for the future of the country and its decision to continue prosecuting the war. Far from the terrors of the battlefield, the homebound young adults were subject to different kinds of terrors from those found on the battlefield, from racial injustice to economic suffocation. Someone's Comin' Hungry, a revival of the 1969 drama by Neil R. Selden, follows a young man and his wife in their fight to maintain their dignity and hold their beliefs firmly in place against a country slowly dying around them.
Presented by Third Ad Artists Group, the play tells the story of Paul Odum (Anslem Richardson), a highly decorated black Vietnam war veteran, and his pregnant wife Connie (Elena Katzap). A white Jewish activist who frequents protest rallies, Connie has been disowned by her parents for her marriage to a "negro". With a baby on the way and residing in a small, roach-infested apartment in the East Village with Paul's father, James (Randy Frazier), the walls of their home and lives are each beginning to close in on the couple. Plagued with awful war memories, Paul also has a bad temper to go along with his considerable lack of patience with the ongoing situation. He hates his job, resents his father for running out on him when he was a young boy, and believes he has no future. Meanwhile, a strong black woman dancer named Tamara (Kathryn Smith McGlynn) moves into the apartment upstairs. She is extremely distrustful of all white people and feels that a white wife will destroy the strength of a good black man.
It is easy to see how this play worked successfully in its original engagement, but even with updated revisions by playwright Selden, the soul of the piece does not survive; instead, the current production only adds up to a slight case of nostalgia. Under Sandy Harper's direction, the story merely bounces from one melodramatic episode to another and Selden does nothing more than throw dramatic revelation at the characters left and right, giving them no room to breathe -- much like the walls closing in on their respective characters' lives.
Given the tremendous task of anchoring the piece, Richardson's portrayal of Paul is rather all over the place. Perhaps this is because his character is so inconsistently written that it's never completely understood where he is coming from or where he is headed to begin with. For example, there is a mad scene of sorts that calls for Paul to dress up in African garb and denounce the mother of his child while beating on an African drum. Instead of such a gesture, so much more could have been said with a scene of real human communication.
Katzap's performance also suffers from severe underwriting, one that allows the actress only to display how "good and kind" Connie is instead of letting us see how much this woman has really given up to be with this man. As Tamara, McGlynn portrays a fun-loving, friendly woman until the text actually calls for her to display her distaste for Paul and Connie's marriage. In fact, not until she speaks her actual words of hate is their any indication that she might have something against the situation or against white people at all. It is at this point that Randy Frazier fares better as Brother James, the voice of reason. He brings a nice depth to the role with a strong portrayal of a man whose bad decisions in life have made him much wiser in his later years.
Given the trials and tribulations that the characters go through, the play must have been very powerful back in the cultural and social context of 1969, but now, sadly, the material now is too outdated to resonate as well. For a hint of nostalgia, maybe purr for "The Way We Were."