December 8, 1945 p. 26
THE MOST STRIKING MATERIAL suitable to dramatization I've read in a long time is a complete-in-one-issue novel entitled QUALITY which appears in the December issue of the 'Ladies' Home Journal' [sic] and written by one Cid Ricketts Sumner. This author, of whom I have never heard, [sic] has done a contemporary story in which he tells of a fair Negro girl who comes from and returns to Mississippi after receiving her education and becoming a graduate nurse in white school in Maine and Boston.
This author writes with a clarity of the Negro question which indicates that he is familiar with the never ending, legal, spiritual and social problems in which we continually find ourselves enmeshed. He has made his central character 'Pinkey,' young, beautiful, intelligent and capable with the human frailties found in us all. He has drawn a picture of the south without bitterness or accusation. With surprising honesty he has used two or three white characters portraying the higher type Southerner and pitted them against a few of the arrogant, belligerent type.
Drawing from some of the legal cases, which have attracted attention in the Negro press, Sumner has woven a fascinating court room scene replete with a stern but partially prejudiced judge, a smart southern white lawyer, an eloquent but caustic northern Negro lawyer, an alive reporter from a northern Negro newspaper who isn't above twisting the facts if he thinks he can get a sensational story with good coverage, and Granny Johnson who all her life has washed and ironed in order that 'Pinkey' might have an education.
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In brief, this skims the top of Sumner's beautifully written and timely story and shows, I think, its dramatic possibilities. Such a play would give an opportunity to some of the very fine actresses now being developed. Surely after these young women have had a taste of the theatre and proved they have talent, they deserve vehicles in which to exercise that talent.
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MOST OF THE DRAMAS produced with Negroes, for as long as I can remember, have emphasized the male, rather than the female actor. If my memory serves me correctly, there had been but one play which starred a Negro actress, and that was Etherl Waters in Mamba's Daughters. Isabel Washington played the meaty lead role in Wally Thurman's, Harlem and Singing The Blues, which called for song and dance as well as the dramas, but in the case of such fine actresses as Abbie Mitchell, Rose McClendon and several others, there were no followup [sic] plays for them and they consequently, became more or less inactive.
The last few seasons have given more emphasis to women leads as is evidenced by Hilda Simms and Valerie Black playing the lead role in the first and second companies of ANNA LUCASTA with Muriel Smith and Inez Matthews alternating in the role of 'Carmen' in CARMEN JONES. ANNA LUCASTA is contemporary and written for a white cast; the American Negro Theatre adapted it for a Negro cast, and thus it found its way to 'B'way [sic]. CARMEN JONES was also adapted from the well known Bizet opera, 'Carmen.' It is interesting to note that both these vehicles were not originally written for a Negro cast but through their adaptation gave more scope to the Negro actress than anything written for them since Miss Waters did 'Mamba's Daughters' in 1939. Jane White is getting first billing in 'Strange Fruit,' which opened last Thursday night (see review on same page) but the role is small and overshadowed by several others.
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A LONG WITH ADAPTATIONS which probably will be made from time to time, there must be new material written which will give an equal opportunity to the dramatic actress. It seems the playwrights have found that characterizing the Negro man carries far more interest than characterizing the Negro woman. There is a need also to widen the scope to include more phases of Negro life, as Sumner has done in his story.
Sumner has given to his story a competent graduate nurse, a highly successful lawyer and a newspaper reporter of repute. These are characters which have not been seen on the stage in a Negro play and it is high time that they are seen. The beauty of Sumner's characters is the fact that he has made them very normal and natural. You don't get the feeling that he is bending over backwards or being patronizing. The characters are well drawn and fit smoothly into the story.
There are three of four plays scheduled for production but in almost every case the lead role is male. [...] has a male lead as well as Jeb, the Herman Shumlin drama about a returning soldier which goes into production shortly. There is a fairly good part in John Golden's proposed production of Dinner Guest for an actress. The play has but the one Negro role, a mulatto housekeeper. Whitman Avenue is still in the process of a rewrite job and will probably use a Negro actor.
*It is to be hoped that Mr. Sumner can be persuaded to dramatize his story. If he does, there is every possibility that a market can be found for its production. One such play done well, will encourage other writers to follow suit. I don't think it is wishful thinking to say that if someone starts the ball rolling, the time is not too far removed when playwrights will be writing about Negro life with the same ease and scope as they now wirte [sic].