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THEATER REVIEW

Chronicle of Greatness and 'Hope'

May 21, 1997|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

FULLERTON — Howard Sackler's "The Great White Hope," which was successful on Broadway and as a film, is based on the life of Jack Johnson, the first black man to become heavyweight champion of the world.

The era was pre-World War I, and Johnson's accomplishment was fraught with problems, including social problems not yet eradicated in America.

Sackler's play (in which the protagonist is called Jack Jefferson) has its own problems. Chief among these: It's more a chronicle than a drama. It's made up of snippets of scenes covering a decade and a half, and it doesn't always hold together.

There is an emotional through-line, though, as Jefferson almost revels in his failure to avert self-destruction. Jefferson was a sort of early Muhammad Ali, loudly proclaiming his own greatness and, sadly, believing his own boasts. Meanwhile, the black community was inspired by him, and the white community was terrified of where this black pride might lead.

And then, on a ship returning to America from Australia, Jefferson met Ellie Bachman, a young white women from a proper middle-class family. They fell in love.

Director Gary Krinke is aware of the episodic nature of the script and guides it in its own fashion. His production is visually interesting and conveys the story very clearly.

Anthony Mutune's portrayal of Jefferson is rich in detail, informed by the actor's understanding of what a shallow hero Jefferson was. Carly J. Kruger is subdued as Bachman, but Jonathan William stands out as Jefferson's manager, Tick. William is one of those young actors who can portray age with conviction, and his gentle humor in the role is just right.

Michael M. Miller is strong as a bigoted rabble-rouser determined to bring Jefferson to his knees. Nefatiti J. Mills deserves special mention as Jefferson's first common-law wife, a fiery, sensitive role, and Da'Mon Eric Jackson is notable as a narrator who delivers socially pertinent soliloquies with theatrical abandon and a sense of importance. Kevin Covey and Nathan Jones also are exceptional.

* "The Great White Hope," Bronwyn Dodson Theatre, Fullerton College, 321 E. Chapman Ave. Nightly through Friday at 8 p.m. Ends Friday. $13. (714) 871-8101. Running time: 2 hours.

Anthony Mutune: Jack Jefferson

Nathan Jones: Goldie

Jonathan William: Tick

Carly J. Kruger: Ellie Bachman

Nefatiti J. Mills: Clara

Michael M. Miller: Captain Dan

Kevin Covey: Smitty

Da'Mon Eric Jackson: Scipio

A Fullerton College Theatre Arts Department production of a play by Howard Sackler, directed by Gary Krinke. Scenic design: Robert Jensen. Costume design: Wilma Mickler-Sears. Lighting design: Michael Cortez, Scott Gibson. Sound design: Bradley Enochs. Makeup design: Jessica Bowen. Stage manager: Charles Rogers.

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