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Review: 'Fraternity' brings complex characters to life

October 10, 2012|By F. Kathleen Foley
  • Mel Winkler, from left, William Allen Young, Roger Robinson and Nasir Najieb in "Fraternity" at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center.
Mel Winkler, from left, William Allen Young, Roger Robinson and Nasir Najieb… (Craig Schwartz )

Written in the late 1980s and set in 1987, Jeff Stetson’s “Fraternity,” now in its Los Angeles premiere at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, is a frustrating but fascinating play that has an almost spooky timeliness.

The setting, scrupulously evoked by Edward E. Haynes Jr.’s handsome set and Elizabeth Harper’s mellow lighting, is an elite black men’s club in Birmingham, the gathering place for the city’s African American elite.

Sen. Charles Lincoln (Roger Robinson), a cocky, cynical political survivor, is running against his former aide, Paul Stanton (Rocky Carroll), an unreconstructed idealist anxious to break from the old boy network that has dominated the city’s black community for so long. 

Other club members include hard-drinking local preacher Reverend Wilcox (Harvy Blanks), disaffected former musician Turk Maddox (Robert Gossett), multimillionaire real estate mogul Preston Gherard (William Allen Young), newspaper publisher Turner Greystone (Mel Winkler), and Brandon Carrington (Nasir Najieb), an up-and-coming young attorney whose membership is currently pending.

The older men share the bitter memory of a Civil Rights-era church bombing that left four little girls – including Turk’s daughter – dead.  In treating that tragedy, the play occasionally descends into preachiness and bathos. Yet when it comes to the bitter, funny, internecine finagling of these old acquaintances, Stetson displays keen wit and a real flair for biting, frequently hilarious dialogue. 

In director Henry Miller’s consummately professional staging, the performers, particularly Tony-winner Robinson, take full advantage of their flawed but absorbing material, bringing Stetson’s competitive, comradely and deeply complex characters to vivid life. 

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“Fraternity,” Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles.  8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays.  Ends Oct. 28.  $35-$55. (323) 964-9766.  www.ebonyrep.org.  Running time:  2 hours, 40 minutes.

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