More of a tribute than a documentary, "The Negro Ensemble Company" (tonight at 8 p.m. on Channel 50, and at 9 on Channels 28 and 15) is a 20th birthday present to one of America's most important theater companies.
The Manhattan-based organization has generated many an important play, actor and writer during the last two decades. We see the actors perform scenes from the plays ("Day of Absence," "Song of the Lusitanian Bogey," "Ceremonies in Dark Old Men," "The River Niger," "Home," "Zooman and the Sign," "A Soldier's Play"), mixed with excerpts of interviews with the writers and other figures associated with the company; Ossie Davis narrates.
Though a couple of the scenes were taken from previously televised or filmed versions of the plays, the others were staged for this program, occasionally with fuzzy sound. Some of them don't make much sense and are out of context, but they do whet the appetite for the larger theatrical experience.
The interviews are more successful, especially recollections of a moment when the fledgling company was heckled by right-wing zealots in London.