I'm writing this Sunday evening not knowing who will have been elected president by the time you read this. Or should I say I'm writing this before we've learned whether the uncharacteristically bedeviled Republicans got it together enough to steal another election?
And that's important because, in an odd way, Barack Obama's candidacy hovers over the Point Park Conservatory production of No Place to Be Somebody, by Charles Gordone. This play won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1970 ... and it was the first time the drama Pulitzer had gone to an African American. 1970. Unbelievable. And there are several lines when a black man dreams of becoming president, the author clearly intending such dreams to show how starry-eyed the character is.
The play's set in the 1960s, in a New York City bar run by Johnny Williams, a small-time hood plotting to start his own black Mafia. He's a fairly vile man who, nevertheless, takes a paternal interest in the men around him, all of whom have in some way been damaged by the world.
There's more than a touch of the poet about Gordone; at times the fourth wall breaks, with poems recited directly to the audience. The plot is fairly melodramatic and hokey. But then, Gordone is all about character and language.
Director John Amplas leads his excellent student cast into the darker reaches of Gordone's world, and they come up with powerful performances, most notably Richard McBride as Williams, Gary L. Perkins III as Gabe, and Monteze Freeland as Sweets.
There is, however, a rather glaring downside. "Hip/cool" plays, which No Place must have certainly been at one time, tend to age badly, and this one most certainly has. In no area is this more evident than in the play's (and the playwright's) treatment of women. In the world of No Place, women exist for only two reasons; to turn tricks and/or to be battered. Gordone's disgust for his female characters is fairly breathtaking. As is, I must say, the university's curious decision to mount this play. Girls go to school now, same as boys, and I think it behooves us to leave hateful, one-sided shows like this in the past.
As someone once said, it's all about change.
No Place to Be Somebody continues through Nov. 16. Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland. 412-621-4445 or www.pittsburghplayhouse.com