November 24, 1945 p. 26
FOR THE THIRD TIME in recent weeks this column will be devoted to Anna Lucasta, not to the production and its producer John Wildberg as before, but rather to the new members of the New York cast. I raised a boatload of hell (in type) about the fact that these kids have not had the opportunity to have their work appraised by first line drama critics on the daily press, and so I decided to ask for press tickets, see the show and pass on in print this corner's opinion on the performance of the newcomers.
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THE PERFORMANCE I CAUGHT was last Wednesday's matinee and even though the weather was bad, I was pleasantly surprised by what was projected over the footlights by the new crop of ambitious youngsters, who are appearing professionally for the first time.
Unfortunately, exchanges had been made between the New York and Chicago companies and therefore I did not see Clare Jay as 'Blanche', the tart. Alice Childress had returned to the role but was taken ill and her understudy, Clare Leyba, did the Wednesday performance, and a competent job she did too. If she had the opportunity to play the part long enough, she ought to get over the nervous anxiety which I imagine causes her to "mug" excessively.
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VALERIA BLACK, who stepped into the title role of 'Anna' was at a disadvantage right from the jump. When a play has become well established and has run as long as Anna Lucasta, an actress taking over the lead role finds she must not only interpret the character but she must at the same time, rid her fellow players and spectator's minds of the mental picture of the preceding actress' interpretation, which in this case that of Hilda Simms.
Hilda, as we all know, did all right for and by herself in the role of 'Anna'. It is the only role in which she has been seen and therefore when you speak of Anna Lucasta, you immediately think of a tall, slim, lovely girl with a wealth of dark brown hair hanging to her shoulders [sic: no period]
Valerie is not a Hilda Simms, and thank God for that. She has had the good sense not to ape Hilda, but instead has tried divorcing the character from Hilda (as far as dialogue and stage business will allow) and making it her own. Valerie does not have Hilda's brashness in the cafe scenes but her dramatic scenes have more depth, sustain better and are more convincing. She has excellent command of her vocal chords which shows training in voice placement, production and breath control. It was very interesting to sit and listen to this young woman during her first important role, take complete charge of rapid speeches with every word audible and intelligible.
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VALERIE EVIDENTLY TAKES her career seriously because I understand she has improved immeasurably since she first played Anna' [sic] in September. I should not be a little surprised if the constant comparison to Hilda's performance is the thing which brought about a determination to put 'Anna' on Valerie's footing. This she has done and if the gains made in the theatre for the Negro in drama can be kept, then Valerie will be able to exercise her talent and reap the rewards which come to all good actresses who have the opportunity to display their wares.
Charles Swain as 'Rudolph', handles his role with a comfortable ease which at times becomes so casual that he seems detached from the on stage goings on. With a little more concentration he ought to be able to put more youthful buoyancy into the character. Edith Whiteman, as 'Katie', is well cast and is right for the honest sincere sister. She has a throat huskiness which leads itself to a certain kind of pathos or harshness used either way is equally convincing. If Edith develops this voice perculiarity [sic], she will find it very useful in varied kinds of roles.
Inge Hardison (a good theatre name) who plays the juicy role of 'Stella', proves herself to be a nice little comedienne. She gives her character the right timing and shading which brings out all of the comedy without over playing.
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LANCE TAYLOR as 'Danny', has been made to mimic Canada Lee's interpretation of the role and it doesn't come off, at least not in his robust scenes. I have a hunch he would be much more effective if he is allowed to forget Lee ever played the part. His quiet scenes with Valerie are believable and sincere, and when he learns to project his voice without too much volume, better diction and understanding of a situation, he will commence to round out as a competent actor.
Duke Williams as 'Lester' looks good in his sailor uniform and would get his small part over better if he would watch his diction. Roy Allen, as 'Stanley', is adequate as 'Anna's' weak brother.
The professionals headed by Warren Coleman, as 'Frank', Frank Wilson as the father, Georgia Burke as the mother, Monte Hawley as Eddie and Alvin Childress as 'Noah', are all up to their standard which rates high in theatre circles. Good going kids, you're out in front. Stay there.